Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Ayatollah and the Pearl Harbor moment | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The United States’ global leadership is “finished” and capitalism is “on the verge of collapse.” The time has come for the Islamic Republic to “lead mankind on a new path”.

This is the message that, this week, Iran’s top two leaders were trying to spread at home and abroad.

Inside Iran, “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei travelled to Qom on his sixth visit in a year, to mobilise the regime’s dwindling clerical base.

Recalling the Prophet’s Ghazavat victories, Khamenei boasted that he was “on the threshold of new Badr and Kheybar moments.”

Thousands of miles away in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was boasting about how Latin America “once the backyard of the American Great Satan” was fast becoming “ the advance post of global revolution” led by Iran.

Commenting on the visit, the daily Kayhan newspaper in Tehran went further: ”Today, Latin America is Iran’s backyard,” it asserted in an editorial Tuesday.

The delusion that the US is about to collapse and that its leadership role will devolve to Iran has become a major theme of Khomeinist propaganda.

It is the centre of discourse in seminars, some attended by professional anti-Americans from Europe and the United States, and a favourite topic for editorials in the state-owned media.

Almost every day, the official news agency features an interview with some “international expert”, from places as far apart as Russia and Bolivia, claiming that the days of the “Great Satan” are numbered.

Perhaps influenced by such “experts”, generals from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) routinely claim that they are looking for an opportunity to “teach America a lesson.”

One effect of this escalation in Khomeinist hubris is the virtual disappearance of Israel from official hate propaganda.

There was a time when “wiping Israel off the map” was the surest way for every scoundrel’s 15 minutes of fame.

Today, Israel is regarded as too insignificant an enemy for the mighty Khomeinist empire. The scoundrels have jumped many rungs higher to talk of wiping the US off the map.

Those officials less affected by hubris, offer a more moderate analysis. Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi, for example, says that, with US on the way out, Iran could share global leadership, notably with China and Russia, forging a “new world order”.

Propagandists disguised as academics are building an industry based on claims that the US has become a “paper tiger” and that anyone with an ounce of courage could twist its tail with impunity.

Papers are published on how the US, under President Barrack Obama, “ran away” from Iraq and is preparing to “run away” from Afghanistan. Much is made of the fact that Obama wrote letters to Khamenei without getting a reply.

By any account, the US does have the wherewithal to defend its interests. It is spending over $700 billion, almost as much as the entire Iranian gross national product (GDP), on defence. The American military expenditure is double the total expenditure of China, Russia, India, Japan, Brazil, France and the United Kingdom.

The US has the world’s only blue-water navy capable of operating in all oceans. (Last week, it was the US navy, not the IRGC’s world-conquering boats, which freed the captured Iranian fishermen held by Somali pirates for months.)

The small portion of the United States’ air and naval assets concentrated around Iran and nearby regions provide many times more firepower than the “Supreme Guide” could muster.

For Iran, provoking a military clash with the US is a bad bargain, to say the least.

The assumption that the US is “finished” as a major power is equally wrong.

Whatever happens, the US is the world’s third largest country in terms of territory and population. It is also the world’s biggest economy with a GDP of around $15 trillion, almost a quarter of total global GDP.

Whilst economic and military power helped build America’s leadership position, that position is not the fruit of raw power alone. For more than a century, to different people across the globe, the US has been a cultural and political magnet of unique pull.

There are no Americans who wish to immigrate to Iran; but go to the American consulates in Dubai or Istanbul and you will see lines of American visa-seekers going round the blocks.

Americans are not rushing to buy the Iranian rial that has lost 50 per cent of its value against the dollar in the past few month.

Before the mullahs seized power one US dollar was exchanged for 70 Iranian rials. Last week, the dollar was worth 18,000 rials, whilst Iranians were queuing to buy the greenback.

Building strategy on crude anti-Americanism is both unwise and ultimately self-defeating. The course of history is strewn with the debris of anti-American dreams. In his time, Hitler forecast “the end of America” and the advent of “global Aryan leadership”. Japanese militarists sung from their own “end of America” hymn-sheets and Stalin and his successors degenerated Marxism into a crude anti-American cult. Mao Zedong was the original inventor of the term “paper tiger”, to describe America. More vulgar despots such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi also used anti-Americanism.

The Khomeinist version is more out of place because, as a people, Iranians are not anti-American. For decades, every opinion poll has shown that the US is more popular in Iran than it is in France or even Great Britain.

Using the delusion that the US is no longer willing to defend its interests and the interests of its allies, bellicose factions urge a military clash with the «Great Satan”. IRGC’s threat to close the Hormuz Strait was a deliberate provocation.

Such moves are dangerous for Iran and could prove deadly for the regime. They could provoke a Pearl Harbor moment rather than a Badr or Kheybar one, forcing a reluctant American public to support military action against Iran. Ideologically bankrupt, Khamenei may be pushing Iran to war.