“Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Khamenei has been on the warpath since the signing of the Iran nuclear deal. He has ramped up the vitriolic anti-US rhetoric. He is demanding that all sanctions be lifted before Iran will comply with the terms of the Iran deal. Several Americans-including notably a strong supporter of the Iran deal-have been arrested. He has announced a blockade against US imports. Perhaps most importantly, he is apparently mounting an offensive against President Rouhani, and Foreign Minister Zarif, who were the point men in negotiating the nuclear deal. Khamenei and the mullahs have rejected many pro-Rouhani candidates for the legislature, and made it plain that the Guardian Council has an executive role, rather than merely an advisory one, as Rouhani stated.
So much for Obama’s and Kerry’s publicly stated hope that the nuclear deal would be the first step to moderating Iran’s revolutionary fervor and transforming it from a revisionist power to a responsible one.
But (as @libertylynx has suggested) that may be exactly what is driving Khamenei’s stridency and aggressiveness. Obama and Kerry have clearly placed their bets on Rouhani and other alleged moderates in Iran. Rouhani and the alleged moderates may be indeed making a play for power.
To someone like Khamenei, a dedicated Islamist revolutionary who hates the United States and everything it stands for, this is an anathema and a mortal threat. Furthermore, the US’s role in fomenting the uprisings in Egypt (with some temporary success followed by a Thermidor that still rankles Obama) and Libya and Syria (with catastrophic results) would immediately lead Khamenei and his ilk to conclude that the United States is up to the same thing in Iran. Indeed, a paranoid revolutionary steeped in a belief that the United States controlled Iran prior to the 1979 revolution (and was behind the anti-Mossedegh coup in 1953) likely views an American plot lurking behind every bush.
And he may well have grounds for these beliefs. Obama has repeatedly played the the role of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the Middle East, and even though (like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice’s efforts), Obama’s machinations have turned out disastrously, Obama is not known for admitting failure and changing course. (To Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Egypt, one could also add Turkey, though with a twist: there, Erdogan, with whom Obama claimed to share a bond, is descending into Islamist fascism.) One last grandiose, world-changing scheme may be his last, best hope for a legacy.
But Khamenei’s Iran is not Mubarak’s Egypt. Khamenei, the ayatollahs, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are hardened totalitarians and revolutionaries, not corrupt autocrats. They know that the first rule of the dictator is crush the opposition, and that hesitation and weakness are usually fatal. In these circumstances, bet on the hard men with the guns and money (no lawyers necessary) to prevail. And that would be Khamenei, they ayatollahs, and the IRGC.
Churchill is quoted as saying that following Russian politics was like watching dogs fight under the carpet. Churchill may not have actually said that, but even if he didn’t, it is a good description of what seems to be going on now in Iran. I know which dog to bet on, and his name ain’t Moderate.