Right now, with marches and fiery speeches, the Islamic Republic in Iran is marking the 38th anniversary of the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran and the holding of American diplomats as hostages for 444 days.
As the US Congress seeks new ways of tightening the screws on Iran, the Tehran leadership remains prisoner to old illusions. Most of those illusions are centered on the United States which has frightened and fascinated the mullahs since they seized power almost 40 years ago.
The mullahs are frightened of the US because their view of history is shaped by their belief in conspiracy theories. They regard the US as a heavily centralized diabolical machine controlled by a small coterie of conspirators determined to rule the world. Internal political fights in the US are seen as part of a carefully scripted scenario to confuse the outside world.
According to one prominent mullah, President Donald Trump is “playing mad on advice from Henry Kissinger, with the aim of frightening the Muslims.” According to another leading mullah even the duel between Trump and Mrs. Hillary Clinton was “nothing but a show to confuse the world.”
At times, the US is depicted as “on the verge of destruction” because of its “lack of morality and deep-rooted corruption”. At other times, it is the “Great Satan”, as powerful and just as deadly as the diabolical personage depicted in scriptures.
At times, the US is depicted as “on the verge of destruction” because of its “lack of morality and deep-rooted corruption”. At other times, it is the “Great Satan”, as powerful and as deadly as the diabolical personageAmir Taheri
For some mullahs, including Ayatollah Imami Kashani, hating the US is part of “true belief.” For others, for example Ayatollah Qara’ati, no prayer could be regarded as validated until it ends with “Death to America!”
Every day, President Hassan Rouhani, a mid-ranking mullah, and all members of his Cabinet trample the US flag under feet before they enter their offices.
Since the mullahs seized power hardly a day has passed without the Islamic Republic holding some US hostages. The raid on the US Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 is dubbed “The Second Revolution” and marked with government-sponsored marches and seminars, exhibitions and propaganda campaigns across the nation.
The Islamic Republic is also holding the mortal remains of at least three Americans, a former CIA station head in Beirut, kidnapped by “Hezbollah” and killed under torture in Iran, a retired FBI agent working for a private US company in Dubai, and a seconded US officer serving with a UN peace force in southern Lebanon.
And, yet, some mullahs and their technocratic attendants also cultivate another image of America as a gullible 800-kilo gorilla who is easily deceived and brought into one’s service.
In 2015, in the heyday of the nuclear talks, the entourage of Mohammad-Javad Zarif, the US-educated functionary who plays the role of foreign minister, circulated several limericks to that effect. One said: Don’t see him so frail (a play on the word Zarif), He can knock out six like them! (meaning the US and other members of the 5+1 group of nations.) Another line was: “Zarif fights, America trembles!”
‘Kissinger of Islam’
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard strategist Dr. Hassan Abbasi, nicknamed “Kissinger of Islam” claims that Iran has “tens of thousands of sleeping elements” inside the US and in Latin America ready to “ blow America up into pieces at a moment’s notice.”
“The Americans know this and are frightened of us,” the Doctor likes to say, Such illusions were encouraged by President Barack Obama’s determination to accommodate the Islamic Republic almost at any cost. Obama believed that the US had done Iran much wrong for which he sought atonement. The mullahs and their minions saw Obama’s behavior as sign of American weakness.
And, yet, the current ruling elites are fascinated by America. A list of over 700 children of top Islamic Republic personalities currently attending American universities was unveiled in Tehran last August. According to Islamic Majlis member Karimi Qodusi, over 1500 Islamic Republic officials hold dual nationality, including American citizenship and/or permanent residency.
There are scores of former Islamic Republic and IRGC officials throughout the US, including in think-tanks and universities. Two years ago, President Rouhani described the Obama-scripted nuclear “deal’ as “The greatest diplomatic victory in the history of Islam."
But now, under its new President, the “Great Satan” is highlighting the hollowness of that “victory”. Iran’s oil revenues, accumulated over the years remain largely frozen in Western, Japanese, Chinese, Indian and other banks that won’t un-freeze them for fear of attracting US sanctions. The highly publicized “Oil Deal of the Century” with the French giant TOTAL is put on the backburner for the same reason.
‘Agreements in principle’
The same sorry fate has befallen “agreements in principle” for Iran to buy new passenger aircraft from Airbus and Boeing. Promises of granting Iran new credit lines, including one worth $5 billion by Russia, have been quietly forgotten because it is now clear that Trump won’t sing from Obama’s hymn sheet on Iran.
Zarif now says that “We cannot even open a bank account in London to pay our embassy staff.” To be sure, in his last phase in office, Obama provided some relief for Iran in coping with its cash-flow problem. But it is now clear that with Obama gone, Tehran is unlikely to ride any gravy train any time soon.
So, what is Iran to do?
The reasonable response would be that Iran should seek the roots of this unnecessary enmity and try to cut them out through a review of its foreign policy and creative diplomacy. It is interesting that after 38 years, the mullahs have never told Iranians why they should regard the US as “enemy” (dushman) rather than an adversary or, even more realistically, a power with which Iran has some differences.
Because of that almost all Iranians are suffering in their daily lives without scoring any points against the “Great Satan”.
For almost four decades, trampling the star-spangled banner under feet, burning effigies of US presidents and cries of “Death America” haven’t solved any of Iran’s many problems. Nor has the “Great Satan” changed its tune on such scores.
When a policy has failed, reason dictates that it should be re-visited. However, in Iran today, lazy minds remain content with fist-shaking and flag burning.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.