When Obama Adopts the Mullahs' Style
30 September 2015
By Amir Taheri
Those who are sucked into big adversarial situations in history always run a
number of risks. However, the biggest risk, I believe, is to have an evil
adversary and end up looking, behaving and even thinking like them. If that
happens to anyone, they could be sure that even if they win many battles,
they would end up losing the war. In contrast, one might be lucky enough to
end up resembling an adversary that is better than oneself.
The effect that ''the other'' has on one has been observed throughout
history, even at the level of great empires. When ancient Rome and Iran
became adversaries each learned a number of things from each other. Rome was
a republic in conflict with Iran, a monarchy. When Marcus Licinius Crassus,
in his time the greatest of Roman generals, was killed by the Persians in the
battle of Harran in 53 BC, the Roman elite started thinking of adopting the
monarchic system which they eventually did under Julius Caesar. At the other
end of the spectrum, unlike the Romans, Iranians did not have a standing
army. In time, however, they decided to imitate their adversary by creating
precisely such a war machine.
In more recent times, the Soviet Union and the United States, two great
powers engaged in the Cold War, reciprocally adopted aspects of each other's
system. The Soviet defense doctrine has been built on the deployment of mass
armies, scorched earth and prolonged fighting on land that had been tested
with success during the Napoleonic wars. The American doctrine was woven
around the motto: Get in, Kill the enemy, Get out! It found its most tragic
expression in the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan. Six years later, the
Soviets had built their own atom bomb.
The Soviets had a vast and brutal intelligence-security system built around
the KGB, itself heir to the Tsarist Okhrana and the Leninist Cheka. In 1945,
having disbanded the OSS, their wartime intelligence service, the Americans
had nothing of the sort. Soon, however, they created the CUA which was to
imitate the KGB in as many ways as America's open society could tolerate. The
Soviets practiced the black arts against their opponents in Eastern and
Central Europe. Americans did similar things in Latin America.
Trouble for the Soviets started when more and more of their people, including
some in the leadership, started to talk like the Americans. In 1989 together
with four European newspaper editors we held a number of meetings in Moscow
with Soviet leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Alexander Yakovlev and
Yevgeny Primakov. We were all surprised how all of them talked like western
Social Democrats, especially when they held forth about ''universal values.''
''They have been contaminated by the Western bug,'' I wrote at the time, only
half in jest. ''Let's see if they really mean what they say.''
All that came back to my mind when reading the speech that US President
Barack Obama gave in Washington the other day in defense of his ''nuke deal''
with the Islamic Republic. The first thing that struck me was how his
discourse echoed that of the mullahs. He started by building a metaphysical
heaven-and-hell duality about a very this-worldly issue. He warned that the
choice was between accepting his deal (Heaven) and war (Hell). The beauty of
life, however, lies in the fact that it is full of endless possibilities,
including doing nothing when doing anything else could cause more harm.
Next, he imitated the mullahs by practicing ''taqiyah'' (dissimulation). He
diligently avoided delving into the details of a convoluted ''deal'' every
part of which is designed to deceive. He also hid the fact that his much
advertised ''deal'' has not been officially accepted by the Iranian state.
More broadly, he practiced another mullahs' trick known as ''mohajah'' which
means drawing your adversary into the simulacrum of a battle which, even if
they won, would offer them nothing but the simulacrum of a victory. Having
already committed his administration through his sponsorship of a United
Nations' Security Council resolution endorsing the ''deal'', Obama pretended
that his fight with the Congress might end up conjuring some meaning.
Another mullahs' tactic he used is known as ''takhrib'' which means attacking
the person of your adversary rather than responding to their argument. Those
who opposed the ''deal'', he kept saying, were the same warmongers that
provoked the invasion of Iraq and the ''Death to America'' crowd in Iran. The
message was simple: Those are bad guys, so what they say about this good deal
does not count!
He was repeating a favorite dictum the mullahs say: Do not see what is said,
see who is saying it!
That dictum has generated two immense branches of knowledge: The Study of Men
(Ilm Al-Rejal) and the Study of Pedigrees (Ilm al-Ansab).
Prove that someone is a good man with a good pedigree and you could take his
narrative (hadith) on the most complex of subjects at face value. On the
contrary, he who is proven to be a bad man with an inferior pedigree should
be dismissed with disdain even if he said the most sensible thing.
Obama forgot that among the warmongers who pushed for the invasion of Iraq
were two of his closest associates, Joe Biden, his vice president, and John
Kerry, his secretary of state, along with the entire Democratic Party
contingent in the Congress.
On the Iranian side, he forgot that President Hassan Rouhani and his patron
former President Hashemi Rafsanjani built their entire career on ''Death to
America'' slogans. Rouhani and his ''moderate'' ministers till have to walk
on an American flag as they enter their offices every day.
The official Iran Daily ran an editorial the other day in support of Obama's
''campaign for the deal.''
''Obama is the nightmare of the Republicans because he wants to destroy the
America they love,'' it said. ''His success will be a success for all those
who want peace.'' In other words, the Tehran editorialist was echoing Obama's
In any case, name-calling and accusing critics of harboring hidden agendas is
another tactic of the mullahs known as ''siahkari'' (blackening) of the
I am embarrassed to talk of myself, but I have been more of ''Long Live
America'' crowd than the ''Death to America'' one. And, yet I think the
Vienna deal is bad for Iran, bad for America and bad for the world.
I also think that it is possible to forge a deal that is good for Iran, good
for the US and good for the world.
I have also never asked the US or anybody else to invade Iran or any other
country. I have also never been a Republican if only because I am not a US
citizen, and never studied, worked or resided there.
I could assure Obama that, as far as I can gauge public opinion, the majority
of Iranians have a good opinion of America and a bad opinion of the ''deal''.
This is, perhaps, why, like Obama, the Rafsanjani faction, of which Rouhani
is part, is trying to avoid the issue being debated even in their own ersatz
parliament. This is also why Iranian papers critical of the deal are closed
down or publicly warned. Rather than depending on the Khomeinist lobby in
Washington, or even assertions by people like myself, Obama should conduct
his own enquiries to gauge Iranian public opinion. He might well find out
that he is making an alliance with a faction that does not represent majority
opinion in Iran. His ''deal'' may disappoint if not anger a majority of
Iranians who are still strongly pro-America.
Rouhani's Cabinet is full of individuals who held the American diplomats
hostage in Tehran for 444 days. Yet, they support Obama. Those who oppose the
''deal'', however, include many Iranians who genuinely desire the closest of
ties with the US.
Finally, another mullah concept, used by Obama, is that of ''End of
Discussion'' (fasl al-khitab) once the big cheese has spoken. That may work
in the Khomeinist dictatorship; it is not worthy of a mature democracy like
the United States.
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and educated in Tehran, London
and Paris. He was Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran
(1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for the Sunday Times. In
1984-92, he served as member of the Executive Board of the International Press
Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and 2004, he was a contributor to the
International Herald Tribune. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, the
New York Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the French magazine
Politique Internationale, and the German weekly Focus. Between 1989 and 2005, he
was editorial writer for the German daily Die Welt. Taheri has published 11
books, some of which have been translated into 20 languages. He has been a
columnist for Asharq Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's latest book "The Persian
Night" is published by Encounter Books in London and New York.