The mirage of regime change

Why the United States is Khamenei’s bogeyman

According to the leadership in Tehran, the USA is driven by an insurmountable hostility towards Iran. But even if Trump's policy of "maximum pressure" seems to confirm this notion, the U.S. government is not pursuing a policy of regime change. By Payam Ghalehdar & Ali Fathollah-Nejad

Protests in Iran sparked by a drastic fuel price are still in their infancy. Yet, the Iranian regime already knows whom to blame. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei held Iran’s "enemies" responsible, alleging acts of sabotage; a stance which was echoed on Monday by Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani. Such allegations are anything but new. Particularly the United States has routinely been accused by the Islamic Republic of harbouring an innate hostility toward Iran.

Earlier this month, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of the beginning of the Iran Hostage Crisis, Khamenei spoke of decades of U.S. enmity against Iran, arguing that ever since 1953, the year of the CIA-assisted overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, the U.S. had harboured hostile intentions toward the Iranian people. Even today, the U.S. would be as unabatedly hostile towards Iran as before. Therefore, negotiations with the enemy, as Khamenei continued in his speech, were futile.

An enduring myth

Although many Western experts agree with Khamenei’s claim about decades-long U.S. enmity towards Iran, a brief glance at recent weeks shows how misleading this assertion is. Under Donald Trump, regime change in Iran, i.e. the forcible overthrow of the Islamic Republic, has no priority in U.S. foreign policy.

The fact that Khamenei and his followers take every opportunity to invoke U.S. hostility towards their regime in their public pronouncements does not mean their claim is accurate. It rather reveals how much Khamenei needs U.S. enmity to maintain his grip on power.

On the surface, Khamenei’s claim about U.S. hostility towards Iran seems plausible. Although the International Atomic Energy Agency failed to find any indication that Iran had violated a single term of the 2015 nuclear agreement, the Trump administration nevertheless proceeded to withdraw from the JCPOA in May 2018. Since then, Tehran has faced a policy of “maximum pressure”, the stated goal of which is to bring Iran’s oil revenues down to zero.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveils a statue of former American president, Ronald Reagan, in front of the American Embassy in Berlin on 08.11.2019 (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
The Trump administration, and especially Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, would welcome the unlikely scenario of seeing the Islamic Republic implode in the wake of economic sanctions. Accelerating the downfall of the Iranian regime by military means, however, is hardly an element of Trump’s Iran policy

True, the Trump administration, and especially Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, would welcome the unlikely scenario of seeing the Islamic Republic implode in the wake of economic sanctions. Accelerating the downfall of the Iranian regime by military means, however, is hardly an element of Trump’s Iran policy.

Iran's strategy of maximum resistance

Even as the Islamic Republic escalated tensions in recent months – think of the mining of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, the shooting down of a U.S. drone, and the attack on the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry – Trump showed remarkable restraint, ordering a cyber-attack on an Iranian database with military targets, but refraining from military action.

If Tehran was truly convinced of the public portrayal of Washington’s alleged policy of regime change, the Iranian regime would have been more cautious in its foreign policy. In other words, Iran’s "maximum resistance" strategy hinges upon Trump’s lack of appetite for regime change and military confrontations in the Middle East.

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