Aspects of that policy included the unprecedented broadcast, on Iranian state media, of the last two presidential debates. But this move seems to have gone hand in hand with the broadcast, also on state media, of the Netflix political drama series, House of Cards, which depicts the Machiavellian rise to power of a fictional US President. Some Iranians, interviewed by the international press, reported believing that the show constituted an accurate depiction of the lust for power in American politics.
The regime’s efforts to foster this perception did not end with the conclusion of the last American presidential debate last month. In fact, CNN reports that Khamenei made reference to the presidential campaign in a speech to Iranian students, ahead of the 37th anniversary of the Iran Hostage Crisis. The supreme leader suggested that the behavior of the two major party candidates was “sufficient for the annihilation of the reputation of the United States.” He also repeated his message on Twitter, where he claimed that the political campaign had confirmed Iran’s longstanding anti-US rhetoric.
That rhetoric has apparently been intensifying over the past year, since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations in July 2015, and particularly since the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in January. EA WorldView indicated on Thursday that the supreme leader had used the American presidential elections not just to deride Washington but also to criticize and warn the administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the prospect of pursuing more general détente between the two countries.
It is understood that some level of improvement in Iranian-Western relations is necessary for the Islamic Republic to modernize and upgrade its oil industry and other sectors of its economy. This fact no doubt helps to explain why Khamenei signed off on the nuclear agreement despite being the standard-bearer for Iran’s self-perception as a nation too proud to negotiate with its traditional enemies.
In the months since the implementation of the JCPOA, Khamenei has tried to walk back his support for the nuclear agreement, albeit without revoking it. And EA WorldView points out that in the past two weeks especially, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – representing the same sort of hardline perspective as the supreme leader – have stepped up their criticism of the Iranian government’s pursuit of foreign investment.
But the IRGC stands to benefit from increased foreign investment in the country, provided that that investment does not correlate with increased Western influence over Iran’s political activities and cultural life. It is generally understood that it is that influence in particular that the IRGC and the supreme leader’s office are attempting to undermine with the recent growth in propaganda directed against the American political system and the US military.
One clear aspect of this propaganda is the attempt to portray the JCPOA not as a mutual agreement between Iran on one side and six world powers including the US on the other, but rather as an instance of Iranian victory over foreign pressure. This perspective was presented unequivocally by Salar Abnoushi, a senior figure in the IRGC. Speaking to Iranian state media, Abnoushi declared, “The IRGC has defeated enemies in several fronts. The enemy surrendered and accepted to negotiate with us. And now all of our problems are being solved and our country is becoming stronger in all fronts.
The Daily Mail indicates that Abnoushi was evidently not satisfied to credit this situation with making Iran more resistant to Western influence. Instead, he suggested that the Islamic Republic would soon challenge the US on its own territory, saying that elite fighters affiliated with the IRGC “will be in the US and in Europe very soon.” Abnoushi went on to say that that fighting force and its mandate to protect the system of absolute clerical rule have “no border and no limit.”
As if to justify such threats, IRGC deputy commander Hossein Salami marked celebrations of the 1979 hostage-taking by claiming that the US was in “strong decline,” that it no longer represented the leading power in the world, and that it could no longer afford to influence “the world of Islam.”
According to Agence-France Presse, Salami also reiterated the regime’s rejection of any curbs on its development or testing of ballistic missiles. And speaking more generally, he declared, “Our fight with the Americans will continue. Pursuing our ideals in the world of Islam and in Iran, we will recognize no stopping point or red line.”
Although these speeches can certainly be categorized as hardline propaganda, they may also have bearing upon an understanding of Iran’s global policies and ambitions. Indeed, many policy analysts have determined that, at least in terms of its aspirations, Iran truly has no stopping point. In the Middle East, the IRGC has injected itself into conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Bahrain. And on a global scale, the regime continues to extend its hand into Latin America, and thus very near to the borders of the US.
This fact was highlighted by Eurasia Review on Thursday, in an analysis of the threat that the Islamic Republic poses to the US in the Western Hemisphere. The article concluded that that threat is real, as evidenced by Iran’s persistent presence in Latin American regions that had formerly been hotbeds of activity for Iran-backed terrorists like Hezbollah. The extent to which Latin American countries accept an Iranian role today is variable, as is the extent to which they are willing to allow their relations with Iran to conflict with established relations with the US. But earlier reports have indicated that even Cuba has made exceptions to its domestic laws in order to foster a relationship with Iran. Eurasia Review suggests that other nations in the region are similarly interested in encouraging this relationship, both for the sake of economic interests and so as to resist having their foreign alliances dictated by the US.
Of course, Western critics of the Iran nuclear deal have expressed concern that as long as Iran retains its current global ambitions, the US is endangering itself by allowing the Iranians access to more financial resources and a broader global reach. In the run-up to presidential elections that may determine the future of US policy toward Iran, the persistence of anti-American propaganda strongly suggests that those ambitions are far from diminishing.