By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed*
“President Donald Trump’s statements serve extremists,” an article in The Economist warned. It quoted Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as saying: “Thank you, Mr. Trump, you showed us the true face of America.” The usually smiling Iranian foreign minister has lost his smile since Trump took office, forecasting that his country will have difficult days during his term.
The article concludes that the radical wing of the Iranian regime benefits from Trump’s hard-line political rhetoric, giving it the opportunity to become stronger at the expense of the moderate wing. These concerns may seem reasonable, but not so when applied to the political reality inside the Iranian regime.
We believed this in the 1990s, when Hashemi Rafsanjani became Iran’s president, on the grounds that he was a moderate. However, his presidency proved that the regime is ideologically extreme regardless of who is elected by citizens and accepted by the supreme leader.
This was clearly proven after Mohammed Khatami became president. It turned out he was a figurehead, and the real power lay with the supreme leader and the Revolutionary Guards. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president with full powers because he had close ties with the supreme leader and the Revolutionary Guards.
For three decades, there has never been a sign of real competition between hard-liners and moderates within the leadership. Several incidents have proven that hard-liners are the real rulers and all moderate presidents are just figureheads.
Current President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister are moderates. They succeeded in convincing former US President Barack Obama’s administration that lifting sanctions and encouraging Iran to open up would favor moderates, the region and the whole world. Ample evidence proved this notion wrong.
Iran’s leadership has become more aggressive, and dared for the first time since its inception to expand military operations beyond its borders. It has financed and taken part in four wars outside its territory. Thanks to its nuclear agreement with world powers, sanctions were lifted. This enabled Iran to restore international relations and trade, with the international community turning a blind eye to its threat to the region’s countries.
Trump’s hard-line rhetoric is a natural result of disappointment in Washington due to Iranian actions after signing the nuclear deal. Unless there is a strict international stance against Tehran’s chaotic adventures in the region, matters will worsen.
Those who know the Iranian regime cannot believe arguments that a lenient approach will result in positive outcomes. The nature of the regime is theocratic with a revolutionary ideology. The country’s political agenda has not changed much since Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took diplomats hostage.
The same logic applies here too, as Iran will dominate the region by using power via its agents and militias, and by enticing and supporting local communities in neighboring countries for insurgency. Iran has not changed since announcing its intention to export its revolution to other parts of the world. The only change has been the improvement of its financial and military status thanks to the nuclear agreement.
*Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.