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Iran Learns the Language of the West

October 1, 2013 11:10 am 6 comments
Irani President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations. Photo: Screenshot.

Irani President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations. Photo: Screenshot.

A recent Washington Post / ABC News opinion poll found that an overwhelming 79 percent of Americans expressed their support for a U.S.-Russian plan to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons.

This, despite 68 percent of those questioned expressing their belief that the plan wouldn’t actually work. How to explain this cognitive dissonance?

It appears that the desire to avoid any sort of military entanglement in the Middle East trumps everything when it comes to Western public opinion – even if people believe that diplomacy is destined to fail.

The same attitude appears to be dominating coverage of Iranian President Rouhani’s current public relations push. Take a look at this screenshot taken from the UK’s Independent newspaper.

Contrast the photo of Benjamin Netanyahu with that of Rouhani. While the Israeli Prime Minister looks tired and perhaps even a little aggressive, the Iranian President exudes serenity.

Subtle to the point of subliminal it might be, but that is exactly the comparison that The Independent’s photo editor wants you to make.

And like those Americans polled on Syrian chemical weapons, the international media (and many politicians) are also desperately trying to avoid conflict with Iran. So they are portraying Rouhani as the leader they would like him to be.

To be sure, Rouhani’s performance at the United Nations was stellar, although he did not have much to live up to. Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stood on the podium at the General Assembly denying the Holocaust and promoting 9/11 conspiracy theories before claiming that he’d felt “bathed in light” during his speech. Certainly not conducive to winning any PR points.

Rouhani’s UN appearance reminds me of one of the UN’s more infamous moments (of which there are too many) when, in 1974, PLO leader Yasser Arafat addressed the General Assembly stating: “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”

Rouhani entered the UN with the equivalent of an atomic bomb poking out of his clothing. Yet, like Arafat before him, the crowd focused on the “olive branch” while ignoring the gun. In the subsequent years, Arafat’s gun was responsible for murdering and wounding thousands of innocents. Will Rouhani also follow suit albeit with more horrific weapons?

From Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union, propaganda has always been a potent weapon in the hands of dictators and autocrats. For Western audiences, telegenic public appearances, grand oratory, and clever sound bites will always trump dry policy announcements. This is something that Rouhani clearly recognizes. Even while the U.S. has now started to engage with Iran, it is Rouhani’s change in “tone” that is referred to. After all, very little has changed on the substance.

Iran is still dominated by the will of the Supreme Leader Khameini. Human rights and freedoms are still trampled on, homosexuals persecuted, and minorities subjugated. Whatever Rouhani may say, this is still the same Iran that supports Syrian President Assad, arms and controls the Hezbollah terrorist organization, and promotes terror across the globe.

The media has reported on Rouhani’s return to Iran, where a small number of demonstrators hurled shoes and invectives in protest of Rouhani’s apparent outreach to the West. But even this could be deliberately designed and managed to cast Rouhani as the brave pioneer who needs the support of the West before a window of opportunity closes. Could such a demonstration really have taken place without the acquiescence of the regime?

Perhaps one of the cleverest things Rouhani achieved was yet another tried and tested public relations trick – reframing the argument. By calling for a nuclear-free Middle East, Rouhani successfully diverted attention onto the only other state in the region believed to be in possession of nuclear weapons – Israel.

This could not have been possible, however, without the prevailing zeitgeist that prefers to focus on Israel and her perceived fallibilities while ignoring or excusing away genuine issues that should be much higher on the list of priorities, for example the Syrian civil war, and, yes, the Iranian nuclear program.

So as Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to address the UN General Assembly, he already finds himself cast in the role of spoiler. Like Rouhani’s “tone,” will it be Netanyahu’s tone that the media concerns itself with or will it be the substantive contents of a speech that will seek to remind the world of pertinent facts?

Unfortunately, it seems that Iran has learned the merits of exercising soft power through effective communications and PR. Who needs a nuclear warhead?


  • Sanctions have never really worked on anyone as the time frames do not match for the sanction prevent what you are trying to stop and they can be circumvented to limit the pain. You need around 20 years of harsh enforced sanctions. So if UN sanctions did not work on Iran or the DPRK why would Iran think the NPT would work on Israel. So all this talk of isolation, the BDS that stuff will go on regardless to the result of a two state solution. Better to be a live leper than please everyone and be dead. It is all psychological and perceptions when the border fences up they say we live in a concentration camp, we say it more like the GDR Berlin wall but to keep people out not in, castle not a concentration camp. If you have a state they say they have hoard all the Jews in one place to liquidate. I don’t care what they say about the NPT or what the UN say or anyone else for that matter.

  • Fritz Kohlhaas

    Iran will not change. Rouhani is playing the world.

  • It’s 1938 all over again and the world is demanding their “Peace in our time” moment to assure them their fantasy is real.

  • Luigi Rosolin

    Simon: had exposed well the fact that Iran is doing only propaganda for the western country that want to hear that.
    USA is guide by a president that is probably a fox and had relative in Muslim Brotherhood. Wonder why? Israel as PM had spoken today at the UN had understood the Iran dictatorship that is extreme Islam.
    Islam had been actively killing and others bad thing, all around the Middle East, Africa, Asia everywhere Islamic are very active especially against Christian’s. Never had been so many horrible persecutions by Islamic-Muslim like now. Iran is dominated by religious Islamic terrorist. Like before the world is silent and not reacting allowing the abuse to flourish. Israel is the first nation and people that will be destroy by Iran and Islamic soon they had the possibility.
    The west is closing the eye to another Hitler as Islam is a hatred religion prone to impose they way by any mind.

  • E Pluribus Beagle

    The DNC should run Rouhani for its candidate for President in 2016.

  • judith nusbaum

    I am astounded and distressed by the naive and dangerous stupidity of the people in the world who believe that Iran has changed its policy. It hasn’t. Just review the facts. Wishing doesn’t make it so.

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