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What the US election means to the Iranian government—and people

Whatever the results of the vote on Nov. 3, there is likely to be a shift in the policy of the regime in Tehran towards America and its allies.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani holding a press conference after his victory in the 2017 presidential election. Credit: Mahmoud Hosseini/Wikimedia Commons.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani holding a press conference after his victory in the 2017 presidential election. Credit: Mahmoud Hosseini/Wikimedia Commons.
Harold Rhode (Credit: Wikipedia)
Harold Rhode
Harold Rhode received in Ph.D. in Ottoman history and later served as the Turkish Desk Officer at the U.S. Department of Defense. He is now a distinguished senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute.

In 1971, outgoing British Ambassador to Iran Sir Denis Wright said of the Iranians that they are “people who say the opposite of what they think and do the opposite of what they say [which] does not necessarily mean that what they do does not conform to what they think.”

At first glance, this comment seems contradictory. But it really is a brilliant insight into the Iranian mindset. It also helps explain why U.S. President Donald Trump is right to say that in the event that he is reelected, he wouldn’t be surprised if the rulers in Tehran were among the first to call and congratulate him, and say they are prepared to make a deal.

Iran is in shambles in every respect, largely due to Trump’s effective sanctions on the regime. Corruption there reportedly has never been worse. The economy is in such dire straits that even the thieves are complaining that there is nothing to steal, because many members of the middle and upper classes have sold possessions to buy food.

Meat, for example—a basic staple of the Iranian diet—is now unaffordable. When times were tough in the past, Iranians often quipped about the situation and subtly blamed the government for their misery. Lately, however, the jokes have become more blatant, indicating that the people are so desperate that they no longer feel they have something to lose by voicing criticism of the powers-that-be.

The Iranian people fear that if Trump is reelected, U.S. sanctions will only increase. At the same time, they seem to grasp that Washington’s punitive measures are aimed at the regime.

Historically, Iranians have been masters at determining which way the wind is blowing—much better than Americans in this respect.  As Wright astutely observed, they know how to look you straight in the face and say the complete opposite of what they said the day before in order to protect themselves.

During the Islamic Revolution in 1979, senior officials who had been totally committed to the Shah change sides when they concluded that the revolutionaries would win.

Last week, U.S. National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe accused Iran of being behind recent e-mails threatening American voters. There are also unsubstantiated rumors among Iranian Americans that Iran is funding the Lincoln Project.

The Iranian government is disseminating large numbers of stories “proving” that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will win on Nov. 3. Biden has made it clear that if he wins, the U.S. will rejoin the J0int Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers from which Trump withdrew in 2018—and basically give in to Iranian demands. Contrary to the claims and fantasies of the Democratic Party, this would enable Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.

Iranians are ingenious and long ago developed ways of gleaning information beyond what they are fed by the government-controlled media. Some of these who are able to convey messages via social media and other channels report that the government’s pro-Biden barrage is so strong that it’s causing a sense that the regime is actually afraid that Trump is going to win the election. In other words, the campaign is backfiring, because Iranians perceive such barrages as a sign of impotence and fear.

It is likely, then, that many regime functionaries have escape plans. It can be assumed that these senior officials have already contacted friends in the West who might help them make a soft landing in Europe, Canada or even the U.S., should they need to abscond after a Trump victory.

Whatever the results of the U.S. election, there is likely to be a shift in the Iranian regime’s policy towards America and its allies. A Biden victory might bring about last-ditch efforts on the part of the Trump administration to end Iran’s nuclear program once and for all, and even destroy the regime’s nerve centers.

If Trump wins, the Iranian people might even rise up against their oppressors, many of whom will be activating their golden parachutes out of the country.

Harold Rhode received in Ph.D. in Islamic history and later served as an Advisor on Islamic Culture for 28 years in the Office of the U.S. Department of Defense. He is now a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.

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