Iran’s good cop, bad cop strategy

Iran has considerable stake in Donald Trump’s presidency. To achieve its geopolitical, strategic and economic objectives, the Islamic Republic is tactically shifting to play the good cop bad cop strategy with President-elect Donald Trump.

The tactic is implemented by the alliance of the so-called hardline and moderate political leaders.

Hardliners, the bad cops

The hardliners – mainly the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the senior cadre of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps who enjoy the final say in Iran’s politics – have begun their campaign of political posturing, flexing and boasting about their military power, as well as pressuring and criticizing Trump.

In his latest public speech to thousands of people, broadcast on state television, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made it clear that Trump’s presidency causes "no difference" to Iran-US relationships. Khamenei pointed out "We have no judgment on this election because America is the same America”.

Khamenei is sending a message that the US will remain Iran’s “Great Satan” as it has been since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Khamenei stated: “In the past 37 years, neither of the two parties who were in charge did us any good and their evil has always been directed toward us….We neither mourn nor celebrate, because it makes no difference to us…We have no concerns. Thank God, we are prepared to confront any possible incident.”

Khamenei also attempts to depict Tehran as the victim and Washington as the aggressor. He pointed to several incidences, including the 1988 shooting down of an Iran Air passenger jet by the US.

Other hardliners propagated the same agenda. The deputy commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, told Iran’s Fars news agency: “When the Republicans were in power, they threatened us and showed their hostility… and when the Democrats were in power, the policies of the United States were the same,”.

Hardliners are sending a message to majority of the Iranian young population, who prefer rapprochement with the US, that Iran will not have full diplomatic ties with the US no matter who is the President

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, the Iranian Armed Forces’ chief of staff, threatened Trump against “confronting” Iranian military in the Gulf and he called Trump presidency a “joke”. He told Iran’s state media “The person who has recently achieved power, has talked off the top of his head”.

Hardliners are sending a message to majority of the Iranian young population, who prefer rapprochement with the US, that Iran will not have full diplomatic ties with the US no matter who is the President.

In other words, Iran will maintain its core foreign policy of antagonism and animosity towards the US. Hardliners are also attempting to play hardball tactics so that the next US administration would not take a robust stance against Iran.

Moderates, the good cops

On the other hand, while the hardliners hold the final say in Iran’s domestic and foreign policy, the moderates have been extremely successful at setting the international tone and paving the way for hardliners to achieve their geopolitical, strategic and economic objectives, as well as receive billions of dollars in revenues.

The moderates are continuing to apply the diplomatic soft tone. Iran’s President Hassan Rowhani’s recent remarks suggest that he believes Trump will maintain the nuclear deal and will continue Obama’s appeasement policy with Iran. He stated: “Iran’s policy for constructive engagement with the world and the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions have made our economic relations with all countries expanding and irreversible,”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who helped seal the nuclear deal, mentioned diplomatically “Every US President has to understand the realities of today’s world…The most important thing is that the future US. President sticks to agreements, to engagements undertaken.”

Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament's foreign-affairs committee, told the Islamic Student News Agency that “The Trump of the campaign is different to Trump the President.”

The moderates also offered tactical and strategic cooperation to Trump as the leader of the moderate political party, Neday-e Azadi declared to the Financial Times recently: “If Mr Trump co-operates with us and shows us goodwill, we will do the same to allay our mutual concerns in the region, such as Isis, the Taliban and the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Yemen”.

After 30 yeas since its establishment, the Islamic Republic realized that the most effective strategy towards the US is employing the moderates versus hardliners tactics, or the bad cop versus the good cop strategy. This has paid off well as billions of dollars has poured into the Islamic Republic’s budget.

Iran’s “moderates” and hardliners will more likely continue to utilize the bad cop-good cop strategy with the next US administration.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and Harvard University scholar, is president of the International American Council. Rafizadeh serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at, @Dr_Rafizadeh.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
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