Iran’s propaganda machine studied the US over the last decade and a half and concluded around 2013 that the US was very reticent to get involved in any more conflicts in the region. It successfully packaged the Iran deal as the answer to “another war” and with its sympathetic ears in the West it encouraged opeds and talking points that claimed anyone who opposed a “deal” was leading America to “another war.” It correctly understood that the American public would not ask “what do you mean? Why would there be a war? What war?”
So it played this bogeyman role very well. Any discussion about the JCPOA was met with “you support war.” Iran also sought to encourage a whispering campaign that suggested Israel was “driving the US to war.”
All of this was a gamble based on the idea that American policy makers would buy this idea that to stop a “new war” required doing whatever the Iranian regime wanted. This was the fundamental flaw and the leverage that has now been taken away from Iran.
There was never a threat of a “new war,” at least not between the US and Iran. There was always the threat that Iran’s war mongering might spread throughout the Middle East, as it did anyway with or without the “deal.”
The Trump administration has now taken away Iran’s “war” card. Iran can’t play this bogeyman card anymore. This will now require Iran to enter a complex reality in which it can no longer get Western diplomats to do all its talking points for it. Absent of the war threat, Iran has no other major threat. It is economically weak. It doesn’t want war. It is stretched thin. It has overplayed its hand. It’s actions drove the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel into a quiet alliance. Even in Syria it has ruffled feathers in Moscow who view it as a potentially destabilizing force that might drag Russia into dealing with Iran-Israel tensions. Russia relies on Tehran as part of the Astana process. Iran must be careful not to drive Syria into a war.
So now the ball is in Iran’s court. It must not risk driving the region to war. It used this blackmail for years, suggesting the US was risking “war.” Now it has to take responsibility for its actions and can no longer outsource its foreign policy talking points to friends in the US.
For the first time in 15 years Iran’s regime is confused. It’s currency is trading at record lows. The rhetorical flourish of selling the West terms like “hardliners” and “moderates” isn’t working as well as in the past. For years the far-right conservative regime claimed there were “hardliners” lurking somewhere. The good cop-bad cop strategy. But there are no “hardliners.” There are only far right extremists and far right conservatives in Iran’s leadership. The bogeyman of “war and hardliners” has less costumers today.
Europe supports the Iran Deal not because it really buys Iran’s talking points but because it has always wanted positive relations with Iran. Iran didn’t need to “sell” in Europe to get its point across; Europe wants to work with Iran anyway.
So now the ball passes to Iran with Russia watching closely at the kick-off. So, Tehran, without the talking points, time to take the mask off and play the game.