The Islamic Republic of Iran is a fundamentally ideological regime with the teleological goal of establishing an Islamist world empire. The mythology of this regime’s ideology naturally requires the existence of the forces of “good” and “evil” along a rigidly drawn line. The regime regards itself and its allies as good, and the West in general — and the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia in particular — as evil. For the existence of the regime to have any meaning at all, this mythological dichotomy must extend to eternity.
Tehran has tried to push this duality forward in an aggressive manner as far as it can. However, the extraneous factors and the material deficiencies of the regime over the past 40 years have forced it to retreat from its aggressive position and get entrenched behind defensive lines from time to time. In such situations, the regime has occasionally been induced to sit at one table with its self-made enemies and, so to speak, to be seen in a photoshoot with its antithesis.
Negotiating with Satan
It has always been difficult for the Islamist regime to cast a legitimate portrait of itself in such an awkwardly compromising position. The ideological zealots who follow the regime in Iran and around the world mostly do so because they regard it as the epitome of the “myth of resistance” against the West. When one blows up the battle to mythical proportions and calls the opponent the “Great Satan,” it feels fundamentally inappropriate for them to sit down and negotiate with the devil.
Therefore, when actually bowing to the will of the “enemy” in defeat, all the regime’s efforts are channeled toward preventing that mythological frame of mind from unravelling. Under such conditions, the so-called pragmatism of the regime is only a temporary measure that serves the purpose of maintaining its ideological system. Every time the Islamic Republic has pragmatically conceded to Western demands or pressure, it has done so to preserve the core of its dogma as well as the ideological image that it projects upon its followers and allies around the world.
In that regard, the regime has resorted to every kind of chicanery to uphold its myth of resistance, from completely covering up defeat to presenting defeat as victory. For instance, when Saddam Hussein’s Scud-B missiles were ploughing Tehran and other Iranian cities in the late 1980s, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, by agreeing to the UN Resolution 598 that eventually ended the Iran-Iraq War, took the decision that was “more deadly than taking poison,” but which eventually insured the survival of the regime he had founded.
Again, when the regime had been isolated from the entire world in the mid-1990s due to its widespread terrorism, it started the charade of reformism. A decade later, when Tehran was severely sanctioned for its nuclear program, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei showed “heroic flexibility” by negotiating with the “Great Satan” through the Omani channel and signing the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The regime presented all those events to the Iranian people and to its supporters around the world as “victory.”
Point of Resistance
The Islamic Republic went through all these efforts to preserve the self-made epic image of itself as the ultimate point of resistance to Western imperialism, while it had, in fact, failed, and the rug had been pulled from under its feet. And this has been the secret of the regime’s survival to this day — that it has not allowed that mythical image to be tarnished in the eyes of the Iranian public as well as its supporters around the world.
In all those cases, as soon as the regime saw the opportunity, it broke its promises and began to push forward its aggressive ideology once again. A notorious example for this was the trick that the regime pulled on President Barack Obama immediately after the signing of the nuclear deal, disgracing him and Secretary of State John Kerry. On the day President Obama was delivering the 2016 State of the Union address, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps detained a number of US Marines in the Persian Gulf, publicly parading their capture. The large mural of that disgraceful event is still evident in Valiasr Square in Tehran.
More recently, while teetering on the verge of economic collapse under unprecedented US and international sanctions for its pursuit of nuclear weapons and interventionism in the Middle East, Tehran upped the ante by shooting down a multi-million-dollar American drone over the Persian Gulf. Surprisingly, it managed to get away with it. The regime also stands accused of the September missile attacks on the Saudi Aramco oil facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia that disabled 50% of Saudi output and disrupted the global oil supply.
As such, what is of primary importance to the Islamic Republic is the maintenance of the mythological system that it has created of itself and of the world in the eyes of its followers. The regime has had to back down under pressure from time to time. Western politicians, who are the real pragmatists, have also let the regime to get away with impunity. This has allowed the regime to go back to square one when the waters are calm and start all over again.
For the Islamic Republic not to be able to continue this game of cat and mouse with the West, it must once and for all be rid of ideological footing. Therefore, if President Donald Trump’s administration genuinely means to “change the behavior of the regime” in Iran, then it must force the ayatollahs and their Revolutionary Guards to accept their defeat before the eyes of the world by taking all the measures that are necessary to achieve this goal. The fall of an ideological regime starts with the collapse of its fundamental myths.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.