Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif is trying to square the circle by defining a place for an Islamic Republic that wants to be part of a world order which it hopes to destroy. (Photo by Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images)
How does the Khomeinist leadership in Tehran see the contemporary world?
The question has intrigued Iran-watchers for decades.
One reason for being puzzled is the fog of slogans that covers the reality of Iran's behavior.
Besides that opacity, we have the reality of a bifocal foreign policy divided between a faction that dreams of reshaping the world and another that craves admission to it.
Now, however, it seems that, for the first time, the Khomeinist ruling elite is beginning to understand that it can neither reshape the world nor join it on its own antediluvian terms.
Unable to admit that reality, the Tehran ruling elite is trying to conjure a fantasy world in which the Islamic Republic retains some relevance.
One sign of that came last week when Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif addressed the newly formed Islamic Consultative Assembly (an ersatz parliament).
Zarif touted his 5,000-word presentation as a review of the international situation. He said that in the past 70 to 100 years, especially after World War II, the world has witnessed fundamental changes that redefined international relations and concepts.
He doesn't say which concepts and relations, but borrows clichés such as "transition period" "fluidity" and "constant becoming" from American foreign policy analysts like Joseph Nye and Richard Haas to give his presentation an academic veneer.
He admits that, despite its geopolitical and strategic importance, Iran has not secured a role in this changing world; remaining an object rather than a subject even in its own history.
However, he also asserts that the world order created by Western powers led by the United States has reached the end as short-term, case-by-case relations are replacing long term alliances. Because today nothing can be certain, it would be dangerous for the Islamic Republic to regard any relationship with certitude.
If you feel confused by all this, don't be surprised.
Zarif is trying to square the circle by defining a place for an Islamic Republic that wants to be part of a world order which it hopes to destroy.
On Russia, he recalls a letter that Khomeini sent to the then Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, inviting him to abandon Communism and convert to Khomeinism. Zarif says the present "Supreme Leader" is "pursuing the same path", although it is not clear whether or not Khamenei has urged Vladimir Putin to adopt Khomeinism.
Almost all of Zarif's presentation is inspired by reading and misreading of American foreign policy wonks. And the only foreign source he mentions is former US National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Zarif forgets that the first four years of his ministry were devoted to cooking up and dishing out the so-called "nuke deal" with the same irrelevant Americans. He never mentions the "nuke deal" which he now admits was a bill of goods sold to him by "that fellow John Kerry".
Perhaps to please the hate-America crowd he also claims that his top priority is to replace the US dollar in Iran's foreign trade which, he says must be reorganized on a barter basis.
Zarif claims that, internationally, one-night stands have replaced long term relationships. Yet he says Iran is trying to join the Eurasia bloc led by Russia. He also mentions a 25-year "strategic alliance" with China, something that looks like a hoax marketed by a weekly in London and a daily in New York.
To claim some originality, he says he is now focusing on relations with neighbors as opposed to wooing the "Great Satan". Yet of Iran's 15 neighbors, he names only six with which he claims "best relations".
Even then his claim is questionable.
For example, Iran and Turkey are on opposite sides on Syria and the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. Turkey has built a 130-kilometer wall to seal off part of its border with Iran and last week also banned Iranian airlines from flying to Turkish cities.
As for Pakistan, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claims that some 80 armed groups operating against Iran are based in Pakistan, while Pakistanis claim Tehran is helping Baluchi groups sabotage the Chinese project in Gawadar.
Russia has reneged on more than a dozen promises given to Iran while using Iranian manpower as cannon fodder in Syria.
Relations with Afghanistan also remain dicey if only because Tehran flirts with the Taliban while arming Shiite militias in two provinces.
Zarif does not mention Syria, Lebanon and Yemen because these are places where the Quds (Jerusalem) Corps runs the show. To pretend that his ministry wasn't irrelevant, he says he held weekly meetings with Qassem Soleimani, presumably to be briefed on the empire the late general claimed to be building.
He makes no mention of relations with Europe, Japan and India while ignoring the huge sums of money and energy spent to project the regime's image in Africa and Latin America.
However, Zarif's claim of regionalism may also be bogus.
A surprise omission is Israel which is supposed to be destroyed in the next 22 years. Also, no mention of Palestine, which Tehran has always claimed as "number one priority."
Zarif's expose contains no mention of "exporting revolution", the regime's perennial obsession. In other words, the Islamic Republic no longer hopes to make the region like itself. Yet it is too early to say that it may be starting to think of becoming like the rest of the region.
Zarif is clearly confused. He has spent his whole adult life with an America-centered view of the world which, to keep his job, he is now obliged to abandon. And that leaves the Islamic Republic with a trompe l'oeil diplomacy; a sad spectacle for Iran, a potentially positive participant in regional and international life.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.