The American Enterprise Institute by Michael Rubin
Almost every week since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s clerical leadership have presided over Friday prayer sermons and rallies in which they encouraged chants of ‘Death to America.’ After more than three decades of such behavior, many Western diplomats and politicians have become inured to it, and many suggest it is just pro forma and should not be taken as a true expression of the Iranian leadership’s attitudes toward the United States or the West. In an address excerpted here to prominent officials and citizens in Qom, Iran’s main clerical center, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei addressed the notion of enmity and argued that the United States, alongside Great Britain, Israel, and the international elite should be considered Iran’s true enemies.
The notion of Britain as an enemy has a long history in Iran, dating back to the nineteenth century when Great Britain wielded great influence over Iranian politics and exploited Iran economically. Khamenei’s castigation of international plutocrats fits within the Islamic Republic’s rhetoric of social justice and defending Iran against the exploitation by the Western-dominated international system. His hatred of Israel is well-known, and perhaps forms the chief immutable pillar of Islamic Republic ideology. That he includes the United States as the enemy and warns that the weekly castigation of America should not simply be seen as a slogan, however, is important because it puts a damper on the ambitions of those who see the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as a crack in the façade of Iranian government antipathy that could somehow be widened by further outreach. Indeed, in his broader speech, he argues that there is no substantive difference in the policies toward Iran put forward by the Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry and those of the current administration; at is core, he argues, the problem with the United States is its ideology, behavior, and unwillingness to recognize that what Washington condemns as Iran’s support for terrorism, Khamenei believes is legitimate. Notable is his omission of Russia as an enemy. After all, both Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union victimized Iran as much as British imperialists did.
Just as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps exists to defend Iran from enemies both foreign and domestic, Khamenei reaffirms that Iran faces challenges not only from abroad, but from those inside Iran who are enamored with outside cultures. His conclusion that Iranians must double down on the Islamic Republic’s core ideology suggests that sustained reform will remain at best in the realm of regime rhetoric rather than result in substantive change.