Who was waiting in ambush for whom?
For the past few days, the question has been the spice of conversations in political circles in Tehran.
One version, marketed by President Hassan Rouhani’s entourage, is that last Monday the US President Barrack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry were lurking in the lobby of the United Nations in New York waiting for Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to arrive. When the latter did emerge, the two Americans rushed towards him forcing him to shake hands with them. Moments later, the Americans leaked the story, to the chagrin of secretive Iranians.
Another version, marketed by the Iran-lobby in Washington, is that both sides had planned an “accidental meeting” between Obama and Rouhani months ago. It did not happen because Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei vetoed it.
In the end, however, Khamenei agreed that Zarif do the accidental meeting as a gesture to Obama who has worked hard to advance Iranian interests in Washington.
As Majlis member Ali Motahhari put it later, that was no big deal. Zarif had shaken many hands at the UN, including that of the janitors. Giving Obama a handshake was a small recognition of his brave fight against the US Congress on behalf of Iran.
There is little doubt that both sides wanted the “accidental” encounter to demonstrate their chumminess.
Obama is desperate to perpetuate the fiction that he has tamed revolutionary Iran and, as he claimed the other day, made “the world a safer place.”
If the Iran “nuclear deal” is exposed as a sham, which it certainly is, Obama would look like the self-styled wizard in The Wizard of Oz – if not a bad man, at least an incompetent magician.
For his part, Rouhani must salvage whatever he can of the “nuclear deal” which he has always presented as the crucial step towards normalization with the “outside world” which every Iranian understands to mean the United States.
He has described the “deal” as “The greatest diplomatic victory in Islamic history.” (fath al-fotuh).
Rouhani has always maintained that the late Ayatollah Khomeini was wrong in helping destroy Jimmy Carter’s presidency.
Carter had been sympathetic to the mullahs from the start and had highlighted his readiness for “cooperation” by sending National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to meet Khomeini’s Premier Mehdi Bazargan with promises of aid and arms deliveries. Khomeini responded by prolonging the captivity of the US diplomats held hostage in Tehran, wrecking Carter’s chances of reelection.
Now, perhaps thanks to the Hidden Imam, the US has produced another Carter in the person of Obama, a man who has bent over backwards to make a deal with the Islamic Republic, giving the mullahs a chance of a lifetime to pursue their ambitions unchecked by any major power.
With Obama’s support, Rouhani hopes to reenergize Iran’s moribund economy, consolidate the Rafsanjani faction’s positions internally and, hopefully, capture the Islamic Majlis and the Assembly of Experts in next spring’s elections.
This is how Sadegh Zibakalam, one of Rouhani’s intellectual advisors puts it: “Fortunately, Mr. Rouhani does not think that the Western Civilization is headed for decline and fall. He doesn’t want to export revolution, nor does he believe that the future of mankind depends on Iranian or Islamic civilization. He doesn’t regard the denial of the Holocaust as a historic mission for Islamic Iran. Not only has he waved the olive branch to America but, since his election two years ago, he has not even once called for the destruction of Israel.”
Zibakalam’s comment on Rouhani’s approach to the “Israel question” comes in the wake of reports that a former Islamic Republic minister who served under former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami has met two Israeli representatives in Cyprus for “exploratory talks.”
The problem is that chumminess with the US may be leading Rouhani and his faction, led by Rafsanjani, into a fantasy world fueled by hubris. They now behave as if they are the anointed “regional superpower” backed by Obama.
Signs of hubris are already there.
Rouhani and Zarif, their egos inflated by the belief that they now have the United Sates on their side, have made disparaging remarks about several nations.
Rouhani has boasted that Iraq was saved from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) thanks to Iranian military support.
“If our armed forces were not there, Da’esh would have already been in Baghdad,” he claimed, using the Arabic acronym for the group. “It was us who saved Samarra and Baghdad and drove Da’esh away from Karbala.”
Leaving aside that ISIS was never close to Karbala and that Iran had nothing to do with the defense of Samarra or Baghdad, Rouhani forgets that Iraq, a nation of 30 million, might resent being insulted by a foreign mullah.
Rouhani mocks Iraq as “a place once regarded as the most powerful Arab state.” “Now look at it, “he says. “Look at its pitiful state!”
Rouhani also claims that Iranian forces saved Syria. He forgets that Syria is far from saved; in fact it is ravaged partly because of Iranian support for Bashar Al-Assad.
Drunk on hubris prompted by the illusion of American support, Rouhani even offers to send Iranian troops to “protect Mecca and Medina” as if the Saudi government and nation did not exist.
His politicization of the Hajj tragedy may have been inspired by a desire to counterbalance his growing dependence on Washington by appearing more “revolutionary” than Khamenei.
In any case, Rouhani’s statement was a mistake, angering even Shi’ite leadership in Najaf.
Even Turkey is not spared. Rouhani’s government has closed frontiers and advised Iranians not to travel to Turkey because of “violence and instability” there.
“Iran is the only island of stability in the region,” Rouhani boasted in meeting with Austrian President Heinz Fischer.
Rouhani is not alone in being afflicted by hubris. His adviser Ayatollah Ali Yunesi claims that for the first time since the Arab Invasion, Bagdad is “back in Iranian orbit”.
Former Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Velayati asserts that Tehran “shall under no circumstances allow Bashar Al-Assad to fall,” as if the Syrian were an employee of the Islamic Republic and as if the Syrian people had no say in who they want as their president.
Velyatai also says that former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi fell because “he didn’t listen to our Supreme Guide” who had advised the Muslim Brotherhood to “purge the Egyptian army and create a new force modelled on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.”
Rafsanjani goes further, claiming that “those who govern Iraq are our people.” He specifically names former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani as “one who always worked for us.”
Ayatollah Javadi Amoli uses word play to mock Iraq. “Iraq has become owraq,” he chuckles. (owraq means shattered Persian.)
Zarif dismisses Pakistan as “irrelevant, in spite of its nuclear arsenal.”
The party of hubris also mocks the diplomats and businessmen from Europe and elsewhere coming to Tehran as “supplicants paying tribute to the power of Islamic Iran.”
The image reminds Iranians of stone-carvings in Persepolis depicting envoys of subject-nations coming to kiss the feet of the Persian King of Kings.
The fact is that Europeans and others are coming to secure contracts in case Iran regains control of its oil revenues, something that is far from certain.
Rouhani’s presidency started with a series of bluffs. Thanks to Obama’s weird behavior, a layer of hubris has been added to the sediment of those bluffs.
For reasons hard to fathom, Rouhani likes to present himself as “moderate”.
To live up to that claim he should start by moderating his language and the language of his associates.
Hubris is a sin and pride is a prelude to fall.