The Audacity of Iran’s Foreign Minister

If the Persian language had a term for chutzpah, it should have been the title for Javad Zarif’s recent essay in The Atlantic. Written by Iran’s foreign minister and master propagandist, a man who has perfected the art of spoon-feeding credulous Westerners his spin, the article depicts an odious Iranian regime that has spread chaos and destruction throughout the Middle East as a magnanimous democratic force for regional stability.

The narrative spun by the foreign minister not only contradicts the historical reality of Iran’s behavior but is also at odds with the Farsi-language narratives of Iranian politicians who openly boast of the Islamic Republic’s hegemonic ambitions. Just three years ago, an Iranian official close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei famously remarked, “Three Arab capitals [Beirut, Damascus, and Baghdad] have already fallen into Iran’s hands and belong to the Iranian Islamic Revolution.” The Yemeni capital of Sana’a, he added, would be the fourth. Add to that the mullahs’ racial and religious incitement for what Ayatollah Khomeini called, as far back as 1945, “the savages and camel herders” of Arabia, language that Iran’s clerical and political class continues to spew in their sermons and media.

Listening to Zarif, we are to believe that the Islamic Republic is promoting peace and understanding in the world, having been born of a glorious revolution that “freed its people from tyranny.” That the mullahs butchered tens of thousands of their own citizens and forced millions more into exile during this glorious revolution is conveniently forgotten. Also conveniently ignored by Zarif, in his lamentations that Iran suffered an unjust war with Iraq, is the fact that by calling for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and by urging their followers to spread the fire of the Islamic revolution to the “corrupt godless monarchies” of the Arabian Gulf, Iran’s mullahs succeeded in provoking an admittedly foolish Saddam into attacking them, and the Gulf monarchies into throwing their full weight behind Baghdad.

Since the early days of its revolution, Iran has worked to develop proxy forces, like Hezbollah, as a tool to export the Islamic Republic’s radical revolution to its Arab neighbors. The creation of these forces and the unleashing of their destructive potential on the Arab world may be Iran’s single greatest “achievement.” In its nearly 40-year history the Iranian revolution has no other claim to success, no achievement of any consequence to boast of except creating what are arguably the world’s most successful state-sponsored terrorist organizations.

The Islamic Republic created Hezbollah to capture and control the Lebanese state; this is the same Hezbollah that in 1983 killed 241 U.S. marines when it destroyed the American military barracks in Beirut. “Hezbollah of the Hejaz,” the Lebanese terror group’s Saudi affiliate, murdered 19 U.S. military personnel in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers complex. Iran unleashed both Hezbollah and its own Revolutionary Guard to prop up the bloody dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad after the latter met his own people’s peaceful demands for reform with barrel bombs and chemical weapons, killing them by the hundreds of thousands.

Tehran also backed the Houthi militias that overthrew the internationally recognized government of Yemen and helped create the Shia militias in Iraq whose ethnic cleansing of Iraq’s Sunni population led directly to the creation of ISIS. In Bahrain, Kuwait, and Argentina, Tehran funded terror cells that planned and, in the cases of Bahrain and Argentina, successfully executed terror attacks against security personnel and a Jewish cultural center, respectively. The history of Iranian aggression is so long, so damning, and so well-documented that it’s hard to believe one even has to remind people of it today.

The hubris of a regime that prioritizes power projection abroad over the critical human-development requirements of its own people—a neglected population who are fed anti-American rhetoric and extremist ideology while suffering under stagnant wages and chronic unemployment—does not come without a cost. While the foreign minister touts Iran’s 1979 liberation, he makes no mention of the Green Revolution, which also sought to “free [the Iranian people] from tyranny.” His government’s rigging of the 2009 presidential elections sparked peaceful protests by millions of Iranian citizens that were ruthlessly suppressed through a state-directed campaign of intimidation, mass arrests, torture, and murder. It is doubtful that the thousands of political dissidents who have been guests of Tehran’s infamous Evin prison and Iran’s other notorious detention facilities ever felt “freed from tyranny.”

The tragedy of Iran’s Islamic revolution is that it traded one dictatorship for a far more brutal one, yet this does not stop Zarif from audaciously claiming that Iran is a democracy. The fact is, however, that Iran’s unelected Supreme Leader appoints the Guardian Council, an unelected theocratic body that decides who can and cannot run for president and parliament. This same Guardian Council also decides who sits on the Assembly of Experts, another unelected theocratic body that chooses the next Supreme Leader. In other words, the Supreme Leader has veto power over all of Iran’s organs of government. Elections, when they are held, are cleverly designed to create the illusion of political participation and pluralism. This does not stop apologists in the West from jumping on minor variations within the tightly controlled Iranian political spectrum as signs of “moderation” worthy of Western support—a game Iranians like Zarif are only too happy to indulge them in.       

Iran is not only a destabilizing revolutionary power masquerading as a benevolent force for stability but also a dictatorship pretending to be a democracy. This hypocrisy is why nobody trusts the Islamic Republic. And when their foreign minister can shamelessly say what he says with a straight face while his masters in Tehran say and, more importantly, do the exact opposite, is it any wonder that the Arab Gulf states do not believe they can peacefully “share their neighborhood” with such a regime, or any wonder why they treat calls for dialogue with great skepticism?

Published in the Atlantic, October 12, 2017.