Coming only about a day after Ayatollah Khamenei accused the US of plotting to destroy the Islamic Republic and being committed to unchanged aggressive policies, the video specifically utilized President Obama’s comments on a deliberate change of policy in an attempt to justify that perception.
The title of the video alludes to the Iranian regime’s characterization of the US as the “great Satan” – a characterization that was tacitly endorsed in a formal vote by the Iranian parliament last week reaffirming “death to America” as an official motto for the Islamic Republic. The vote was apparently intended to strike a blow against any expectations of improved relations between the two traditional enemies in the wake of the nuclear deal.
But there is little doubt that Khamenei realizes obstruction of rapprochement would be unpopular among large swathes of the Iranian population, which is on the whole highly educated, pro-Western, and pro-democratic, in contrast to the theocratic ideology of the ruling ayatollahs. This serves to explain why Khamenei’s recent comments have largely focused on presenting his bans on negotiations with the US and imports of American goods as reactions to a legitimate American threat.
Toward this end, “Satan’s Confessions” was composed of excerpts from President Obama’s speeches, putting the American executive in the guise of Satan but denying any separation between him and his predecessors. The excerpts acknowledged past American policies toward Iran, including its support for the coup that removed President Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. But in context it is clear that Obama regards these policies as, if not mistakes, at least viable justification for some Iranian resentment toward the US.
In turn, Obama’s speeches were aimed at explaining why he considers a policy of rapprochement to be worth pursuing in the present case. Yet the Iranian video apparently attempts to portray mere acknowledgment of decades-old policies as endorsement of more of the same policies. But despite this flimsy evidence for American aggression, the video concludes by itself endorsing decidedly aggressive policies, as by showing an image of a badly damaged US Capitol building.
Naturally, many critics of the Obama administration regard these accumulating examples of Iranian aggression as evidence that the US policy of rapprochement has failed in its objectives. An editorial in US News and World went so far as to claim that “attempting to mollify the Islamic Republic is backfiring in every way.” It cited as evidence the nascent crackdown on American nationals, which arguably began with the conviction of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian on trumped-up espionage charges, and continued with the more recent arrests of an Iranian-American businessman and a Lebanese-American IT professional.
Some recent articles have also linked the attacks on Americans and the general anti-US rhetoric to an apparently worsening domestic human rights situation. Arutz Sheva pointed out on Wednesday that three unnamed Iranian journalists had been confirmed arrested alongside the two, Isa Saharkhiz and Ehsan Mazandarani, whose cases had been reported on earlier in the week. Those two are known to have affiliations with newspapers that have covered human rights topics, and it is likely that the arrests in general are aimed at repressing a perceived anti-regime bent.
A report by The Guardian indicated on Monday that it is a common strategy for Iran to try to present such progressive journalism or human rights activism as being instigated by foreign elements, especially the United States government. On the same day, an IranWire article gave an example of the same trend when it reported on the controversy surrounding Sadaf Taherian, an Iranian film and television actress now living outside of the country, who recently posted to photographs of herself on Instagram, in which she was not wearing the head covering that is legally mandated in Iran.
Regime officials and hardliners were quick to condemn Taherian for immorality, and a spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance suggested that she had been brainwashed or otherwise brought under the control of “alien networks.”
Meanwhile, the regime is hard at work attempting to brainwash or otherwise influence its civilians with propaganda like “Satan’s Confessions” and various official anti-American rallies, including the annual remembrance of the beginning of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis on November 4. But there is some question about whether those efforts are penetrating as deeply as they once might have.
While the Associated Press reports that thousands of people attended Wednesday’s rally outside the former US embassy in Tehran, now a museum referred to as the “den of spies,” it did not compare the attendance to prior years or provide any other analysis of the participation. By contrast, Centre Daily published an article on Wednesday by an American who had personally attended one of the Iranian Friday prayer services that are generally understood to be dedicated to condemnation of the United States.
The article claimed that while the event shows no sign of stopping or changing its focus, the levels of participation and enthusiasm appear to be diminishing among Iranian citizens. The article quoted an anonymous Iranian journalist as saying of the 80 million person population, “70 million people here wear a mask” and are merely going along with the small ruling elite, which is overwhelmingly upwards of 60 years old and ideologically out of step with the young, educated Iranian populous.
In this context, it appears that the current trends toward anti-Western rhetoric are representative of deeply wishful thinking among that ruling elite, but only serve to stifle continuing desire for a change in policy among the majority of the country.