Presidential Campaign

Why is the Ayatollah praising Donald Trump?

Ayatollah Khamenei and Donald Trump
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Observing the 37th anniversary of the taking of hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a blistering anti-American speech, Wednesday, with one major exception: the Ayatollah used a relatively positive tone for Donald Trump.

Khamenei said (My translation):

Today, according to the Americans themselves, the U.S. government and the U.S. system are far from humane values. Have you watched the debates between the two American candidates? Did you observe the truths that they spoke of? Did you hear them? They exposed the U.S. They themselves said things many times [worse than] what we had said [about them] that many did not believe and did not want to believe. And what is interesting is that the one who said these more explicitly, got more attention from the people. Because that man [Trump] spoke more clearly, more explicitly, the people of America gathered their attention toward him. The opposing side said that he is acting like a populist; populism, why populism? Because the people saw what he said and saw that those words were the truth; they had observed those in the realities of their own lives.

{mosads}Then Khamenei added that racism exists in the U.S. He noted that Trump pointed this out. Khamenei said: “A few days ago, during his campaign, he [Trump] said that if you are a person of color, if you are black or native American, when you are walking on the streets of New York, Chicago, Washington, or California, and similar such places, you cannot be confident that you will be alive another few minutes.”  

Khamenei also praised Trump for pointing out about discrimination and violations of human rights in the U.S. Khamenei said: “He [Trump] also talked about poverty. He said that 44 million people go hungry in the U.S. He said and others also said that less than one percent of the population owns 90 percent of the wealth in the U.S.”

Although for many Americans, Khamenei’s words may appear as straightforward recitation of Trump’s words, they are perceived by the Iranian public as unusual words of praise of Trump. Khamenei usually uses terribly harsh words for the officials of the U.S. whom he regards as “the Great Satan.”

For example, in this very speech, Khamenei refers to American officials (e.g., Secretary John Kerry and President Obama) who are involved in negotiations with Iran in the following words: “The other side is a liar, is a deceiver, is a breaker of agreements, is a back stabber, while is shaking your hand with one hand, in their own words is holding bunch of stones in the other hand to hit the head of the other side.”

Why is Khamenei, who has been using terribly harsh words for President Obama, making such relatively complimentary remarks about Trump?

First, Khamenei hates Hillary Clinton. The ideology of the Islamic Republic and its constitution are explicitly and extremely misogynist. The fundamentalist constitution has enshrined de jure discrimination against women: top leadership positions are explicitly reserved for males only.

A female as the President of the sole super power, poses a terribly powerful threat to the ideological justifications of the fundamentalist regime. The fundamentalist regime already suffers from serious legitimation crises, particularly among women. A female president of the U.S., particularly one who has said “Women’s rights are human rights, human rights are women’s rights,” presents a serious threat.

Second, Hillary Clinton, while Secretary of State in 2009-2010, publically supported the pro-democracy Green Movement. This stood in stark contrast to the almost total silence of President Obama, who privileged his open and secret outreach to Khamenei to the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.

Iranians widely believe that a President Hillary Clinton would place human rights, women’s rights, and democracy on U.S. foreign policy agenda. This has caused Khamenei to strongly oppose Clinton and many pro-democracy Iranians to support her.

Third, like Putin, Khamenei feels threatened by the attractions of American democracy. Unlike Clinton, Trump appears like an authoritarian leader with little regard for civil liberties, civil rights, democracy, constitutionalism, human rights, international law, and women’s rights.

Trump’s constant attacks on the legitimacy and credibility of the American electoral system as rigged by an elite of globalists are used by Putin and Khamenei to argue that the American system is corrupt and manipulated by a handful of elites behind the scenes.

Trump’s statement that Obama and Hillary Clinton created ISIS, has been used by the Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrollah as vindicating the claim that the U.S. has created ISIS, a claim made earlier by Putin and Khamenei.

Fourth, Hillary Clinton promoted the Clinton-Petraeus Plan, a plan to covertly supply assistance to the moderate forces opposing Bashar Assad in Syria, a plan that was rejected by Obama. Clinton advocates establishing no-fly zone and safe zone in Syria.

Khamenei’s policy has been unequivocal support for Assad. A Clinton presidency would mean the U.S. would raise the costs of Khamenei’s policy of support for Assad.

Khamenei, like Putin, feels threatened by Clinton and prefers Trump. Apparently, Khamenei and Putin, too, want to “Make America Great Again.”

Kazemzadeh is associate professor of political science at Sam Houston State University.


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