PJ Media

Watching Obama from Tehran

Iranian President Ahmadinejad has great admiration for his own fortune-telling capabilities. For years, he has been making all kinds of predictions. Among his most famous are the destruction of Israel and the end of the “U.S. empire.”

In March 2008, he made another prediction.

“They would not allow Obama to become the U.S. president,” declared the Iranian president confidently in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

This new failure in his clairvoyance has probably disappointed the president.

Nevertheless, he took the time to congratulate the man he thought would never become president by saying, “Tehran welcomes basic and fair changes in U.S. policies and conducts.” He added what is obviously his idea of helpful advice: “I hope you will prefer real public interests and justice to the never-ending demands of a selfish minority and seize the opportunity to serve people so that you will be remembered with high esteem.”

Despite this message, the conservative hard-line camp in Iran is worried about the overwhelming enthusiasm and support for the U.S. that Obama’s election has created around the world. A popular American president who talks about peace and wants to negotiate with Iran would take away their justification for leading the anti-American front in the Middle East. Furthermore, increased international support and credibility for the United States represents a more serious challenge to Iran, especially if the international community initiates new sanctions against Tehran. All this while oil prices are falling.

This is why efforts are already efforts underway in the Iranian press to tarnish Obama’s image.

“A hawk in a dove’s outfit” is the way the right-wing newspaper Keyhan described Obama in a front page article the day after his election.

While describing Obama’s victory and America’s electoral system, the article puts special emphasis on what it calls “Obama’s praise of America’s actions in Afghanistan, and George Bush Sr.’s war in Iraq.” It goes on to say, “Obama has never been peace-seeking, because of his approval of some of some America’s military disputes.”

Jomhuriye Eslami, another right-wing newspaper, went a step further. “That Black Man Will Never Change U.S. Policy” was the headline of its editorial. It went on to say that despite Obama’s victory, U.S. policy will remain the same because of “the structure of the American regime, which was established by capitalists, Zionists, and racists.” In other words, Obama’s victory won’t change the fact that, to Iran’s leadership, America remains a racist state controlled by Israel.

More important to note is that the leading protagonist in the media assault against Obama seems to be Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Keyhan and Jomhuriye Eslami are the two newspapers closest to him. This is a strong indication of how worried Iran’s leadership is.

However, not all parties and individuals in Iran see Obama as a threat. The reformists in Iran take a very different view than the hard-liners, as indicated by Ebrahim Yazdi, the secretary-general of the Freedom Movement of Iran. He sees Obama’s election not as a threat but as an opportunity. In an exclusive interview with the Tehran-based IR Diplomacy publication, Yazdi called on Iran’s foreign policy establishment to declare openly that “Iran is prepared to negotiate unconditionally with America over issues such as current disputes in the Middle East, and bilateral differences.” Yazdi went on to say, “If the government of Iran undertakes such an initiative, it would be positive for relations between Tehran and Washington, and the international community as a whole”.

Even moderate conservatives in Iran seem to be willing to give Obama a chance. Tabnak news, a leading moderate conservative news agency in Iran, published a piece which quoted a U.S. soldier telling CNN that Obama is “an angel rescuing (America) from hell.” Meanwhile, the deputy head of the Majles, Mohammad Hassan Abu Tarabi, said that he hoped that “Obama can learn from Bush’s failed policies, especially in the Middle East, and try to reform U.S. behavior.”

Obama’s election has even been used for satirical purposes. In one spoof report by Shahab News, which is close to Ayatollah Rafsanjani, it was reported that former Iranian presidential candidate Ayatollah Karrubi had contacted Obama on the night of the election, telling him “not to sleep a wink.” Karrubi’s “suggestion” was based on his own bitter experience. On the night of the Iranian presidential elections of 2005, he was leading Ahmadinejad before he went to sleep. By the time he woke up, Ahmadinejad had beaten him. Karrubi believes that his victory was jinxed by his sleep. He didn’t want the same to happen to Obama, and that’s why he supposedly contacted him.

The most intriguing reaction to Obama’s victory in Iran was reported by the Saudi-based Al Arabiya. In a report, this news outlet said that some Iranian officials had interpreted Obama’s election as as a sign of the arrival of the Mahdi. This is because Obama’s first name, Barack, means blessing and his second name, Hussein, is the name of the third Shiite imam who Iranians revere. The Saudi channel refused to reveal the name of the Iranian website on which its reports were based.

This raised many eyebrows in Iran, as Al Arabiya had recently been expelled from Tehran. Perhaps the Saudis were getting even with the Iranians, or were following in the footsteps of Shahab News by producing their own spoof report. In any case, its Iranian audience is not impressed by Obama’s spiritual credentials. Nor are Iran’s decision makers. In the meantime, they will keep busy worrying about a U.S. military attack until the last second of Bush’s term in office.

After the recent U.S. attack against Syria, they are worried that Bush may do the same to them. Iran issued its own warning to the U.S. against any invasion plans. They hope it will act as a deterrence. The rest is up to the U.S. — and soon, Barack Obama.