Months later in July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered his “Supporting Iranian Voices” speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in California. The speech didn’t offer much nuance or shift in US policy on Iran from its almost four-decade trajectory. If anything, as Ambassador John Limbert—a hostage during the 444-day Iran hostage crisis—noted, the speech “demonstrated that this administration has no knowledge of or interest in history.”
Tehran blames Washington for being behind the trashing of its consulate. The allegation was simply untrue. The protesters that did it were possibly loyal to the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr—whose bloc recently won the majority of seats in parliament—and is no ally of America by any stretch of the imagination. More likely the young men were angry over persistent unemployment, power cuts, and lack of services, and were probably behind the sacking—a means of venting against Iran because it is perceived as dominating the political class.
Iranian leaders have rejected the offer. The demands, many observers maintain, are non-starters. Meanwhile, they argue, by abandoning the multilateral nuclear agreement between Iran and six major powers, Trump and his administration have lost their trustworthiness. Talks, therefore, would be pointless.
Iranians historically have been wary of their giant neighbor to the north. In the nineteenth century, the Persian Empire was forced to sign a series of humiliating treaties relinquishing claims over territories in the South Caucasus to Tsarist Russia. Even today, Iranians are concerned that after sacrificing millions of dollars and thousands of lives in Syria, Russia will throw Iran under the bus for its own benefit. Recently, an Iranian lawmaker, Behrooz Bonyadi warned of “Syrian-Russian rapprochement at Iran’s expense.”
The rally was supposed to be against “financial corruption” and “government mismanagement,” but the banners held by the attendees, which contained messages threatening moderate President Hassan Rouhani, turned the event into an even more controversial demonstration, with moderates and reformists attacking the organizers.
A few conservative grand ayatollahs unexpectedly came forward to condemn the rally. What angered them weren’t the banners but a speech by a hardline theorist.
These were the main conclusions of a September 13 panel on the topic organized by the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative.
The system imposed in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution seeks a return to conservative social values through rigid interpretations of Islamic law. From women losing rights previously enshrined in a 1975 Family Protection Act, to intimidation and repression of civil society at large by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Judiciary, Iran has violated a wide spectrum of ethnic, social, and religious rights.
Though Secretary of Defense James Mattis has denied that either are on the agenda, the White House's rhetoric and actions betray a different motive. The US president himself has trumpeted the harsh impact of reinstated sanctions and said that it is a “question” as to whether the Islamic Republic “will survive.”
President Donald Trump’s approach is slated to impoverish the Iranian population, cripple Iranian civil society, and eliminate prospects for peaceful democratic change. Indeed, state collapse and domestic turmoil loom larger on the horizon.
As the closest confidante of the former president, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei has long been despised by much of the Iranian ruling elite for leading a supposed “deviant current,” and advocating a strange mix of ascetic mysticism, Iranian nationalism, Shia millenarianism, and anti-establishment sentiment.
After years of controversy, Mashaei was finally arrested last March. He was charged with “collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the regime,” and “insulting judicial authorities.” Along with his patron, the ex-president, Mashaei had spent much of the last few months agitating against the judiciary, especially after it targeted Hamid Baghaei, Ahmadinejad’s number three: his former vice president and a disqualified candidate during the 2017 presidential elections. Earlier this year, Baghaei ended up being sentenced to fifteen years in prison and fined for embezzlement.
Probably the last person a Jeffersonian-style tweet would be connected to is former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Irony seems to be lost on Ahmadinejad, given that social media—Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube—were banned under his presidency after the 2009 post-election protests known as the Green Movement. For almost a decade now, Iranian internet users have had to rely on circumvention tools to bypass censorship, while the former hardline president tweets like it’s his day job—which is more and more becoming the case.
Asking members of al-Qaeda to address whether they collaborated with Iran to carry out international terrorism is unlikely to yield a credible response. “Listening in” on what al-Qaeda members, their families and jihadists in their orbit were “saying” about their ties to Iran is far more credible.