The unreasoning hostility and animosity of the West towards Iran has been going on for so long now that it has become almost a permanent feature of the international landscape. Most of the diplomats, journalists and pundits who take an interest in it hadn’t even started their careers at the time of the 1979 revolution: some weren’t even born then. Most, I suspect, would have to make an effort to remember that things had once been otherwise.
But of course they were otherwise, once. Before 1979, Iran was the linchpin of western strategy in the Middle East, a rapidly modernising state presided over by a firm but wise ruler, a reliable friend of the West, a massive market for arms and sophisticated western goods and the military strong-man of the region. All that disappeared in a few months, to the astonishment of the punditocracy of the day. What made it worse was that the West actually back the Islamists to take over, against the allegedly “Communist” Mujihadeen E Khalq, who might have created a secular, modern, Iran had they won. The West has been in a monumental sulk ever since.
And so began the apparently endless campaign to bring the Iranian regime down, a campaign which long ago left any semblance of logic or coherence behind it, and became a kind of Frankenstein’s monster which stumbles on year by year because it’s too embarrassing to stop it. From efforts at physically overthrowing the regime, to promoting war with Iraq in which a million died, to economic sanctions, and fake anger about a nuclear weapon programme which even the Americans admit doesn’t exist, it’s staggered from one expedient to the next. It’s all turned out horribly badly. Iraq failed to won the war in spite of massive western assistance, and eventually Saddam Hussein himself had to be destroyed, in a war which was supposed to ultimately lead to Tehran, but which led instead to a Shia-dominated Iraq, and a Iraq-Iran alliance never before seen in history. Meanwhile, the core group of Iran-haters (the Americans, British, French and Germans and assorted Arab absolute monarchies) was becoming smaller and more isolated by the year. And Iran is still there, a major regional power with good relations with Russia and China, an important oil exporter and a key actor in Lebanon and Syria. It’s enough to drive the West to screaming hysteria, which is exactly what it has done.
But how do you turn off a hate campaign that’s lasted 35 years? It seems fairly clear that the West is now essentially going through the motions, and that it’s been quietly decided that the Iranian regime will just have to be lived with. Even so, such a violent change can’t be made overnight, or even the media might notice. So what we’re seeing now is a deliberate attempt to pretend that it’s the Iranians who have changed, that the election of Rouhani marks some kind of turning point. It’s significant that he’s not being subjected to the same character assassination as his predecessor was, and this suggests that, at long last, the West has decided to acknowledge that the Islamic regime is here to stay. It only took them thirty-five years.