“I have a message for the people of Iran: The United States hears you; the United States supports you; the United States is with you.” It is July 22, Sunday night in California. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a speech at the Ronald Reagan library in Simi Valley. The event title seems an eloquent call for action: “Supporting Iranian Voices”. Pompeo addresses the “Iranian people” 17 times in his speech. He praises “an ancient and vibrant Iranian civilization,” before speaking on Iranians’ behalf and expressing their desires: “Iranians want to be governed with dignity, accountability, and respect.” About two hours later, American President Donald Trump bursts into the social media arena with an all-caps threat to Iran: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.” Trump’s tweet is likely meant as a reaction to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s words: “Peace with Iran is the mother of all peace,” and “war with Iran is the mother of all wars.” It also refers to Rouhani’s warning: “Mr. Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret.”
As there is an evident discrepancy between Pompeo’s apparently compassionate remarks and the violence of Trump’s tweet, both comments express the actual US politics of (fake) empathy with Iranian people. Particularly since December 2017, the American administration is systematically fueling public discontent in Iran – by trying to galvanize Iranians and exploiting their frustrations – while spending great efforts to sabotage the Iranian regime. How? Ostentatious benevolence towards “the long-ignored voice of the Iranian people” combines with the ferocity of severe policies and measures that firstly hit ordinary Iranians, such as: 1) quitting the Iran deal – the 2015 JCPOA agreement between the P5 + 1 countries [the members of the UN Security Council plus Germany], the EU and Iran on lifting economic sanctions imposed by the EUand the UN to the Islamic Republic of Iran due to its nuclear program – that Tehran fully complied with its terms; 2) re-imposing very severe sanctions, which will harshly impact Iran’s economy. According to Department of Treasury’s roadmap August 6 and November 4 are two key dates [here all the details and sectors involved]; 3) pursuing a punitive Travel ban, which actually prevent Iranians to visit the US or make it extremely difficult [here is how it works].
This strategy aims at undermining the Islamic Republic’s base of support, by widening the rift between the Iranian government and Iranian society. Although the State Department denies any American attempts or involvement in activities for regime change, Pompeo and Trump’s war of words against Iran appears methodical. On the one hand, answering Reuters specific questions, a State Department official said: “We are not seeking regime change. We are seeking changes in the Iranian government’s behavior.” On the other hand, the US is seizing every chance to exacerbate Iranian people’s difficulties and dissatisfactions.
Trump’s politics of ostentatious empathy intensified in late December 2017, as protests erupted in several cities within Iran. On 31 December 2017 he tweeted: “The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism.”. The day after, he added: “Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”. Using almost the same register, president Trump told Iranians America is lying in wait: “Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!” These tweets seem to embody what George Orwell wrote about political language: it often relies on a “mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence.”
Furthermore, while neglecting their role as agents of change, Trump’s administration is often speaking on Iranians’ behalf. It is de facto ignoring Iranians’ agency and acting as a dominant power, spreading often inaccurate news in Persian through the State Department’s Twitter account and ShareAmerica website (both in Farsi). Moreover, the US is funding Persian-language networks such as Radio Farda, the Voice of America’s Persian News Network and Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) – all meant to “fight” for Iranians’ “freedom”. At the same time, Nikki Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, retweeted a post from MEK terrorist group.
As Trump’s bully strategy is looming, the risk of generating a very dangerous reality increases for three main reasons: 1) fostering the image of the Great Satan particularly among authorities in Tehran means fueling an ideological polarization, which helps the hawks on both sides; 2) inciting protesters, by insinuating social media with inaccurate news or manipulating discontent, will not benefit ordinary Iranians; 3) provoking a potential and massive military action will destroy any glimmer of hope and political stability in Iran and in the entire region.
In conclusion, why would Iranians need to be saved by US? If they need change or reform, this must come from within.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)