Since the inception of the Islamic republic, Iran’s clerical rulers have woven complex conspiracies about the United States. The United States is seen as a cruel imperialist power plundering the Middle East, and the themes of clashing civilizations and economic exploitation condition their international perspective. Then, Islamist assertions are never far behind, as the United States is also seen as a sinister source of cultural pollution seeking to delude young Muslims in the name of modernity. Thus, coexistence with the West can lead only to a loss of religious identity and submission to the United States’ global system of economic exploitation.
Although Western pundits and politicians are fond of invoking China as a model for approaching the theocratic regime, China’s evolution is precisely what Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his disciples are trying to avoid. A state that abandoned its revolutionary inheritance for the sake of trade and profits holds no attraction for men seeking to preserve their republic of virtue. Indeed, the Islamic republic’s foreign policy has long been fashioned to sustain its ideological character at home. The clerical rulers appreciate that their revolution can survive only if Iran remains isolated from subversive Western influences. A confrontational foreign policy rooted in anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism not only affirms the regime’s values but also ensures its continued estrangement from the West. To this elite, Obama’s promise of global integration is not an invitation but a threat.