According to Con Coughlin, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is a veritable laughingstock.
The author’s latest offering in Standpoint argues the Iranian supreme leader has always “had to contend with the nagging doubt that he is simply not up to the job.” Khamenei was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s second choice as successor. When his first choice became too radical, Khomeini instead tapped Khamenei, a comparatively low-ranking cleric, for the job. (Coughlin neglects to mention that Khamenei was president from 1981–1989, a fact which might help explain Khomeini’s decision.)
Apparently, Khamenei was “deeply scarred” by questions raised about his qualifications, and in order to “overcome the nagging doubts that, as a minor cleric, he does not enjoy the legitimacy to occupy such an exalted position,” he has adopted an “increasingly combative approach towards the West.” Not only does Coughlin fail to explain why such an approach would boost his religious legitimacy, he also puts forth as fact some unproven claims—that Khamenei personally authorized “the recent wave of terror carried out by the Revolutionary Guard units, including last October’s failed assassination of the Saudi ambassador to Washington,” for example.
More fundamentally, Coughlin’s familiar caricature of Khamenei as guided by some irrational, unpredictable drive—often labeled religious fervor but here blamed on a sort of inferiority complex—disregards the reality that the supreme leader has repeatedly pursued Iranian national interests in a calculated, logical manner. As Reza Marashi noted in these spaces: “If Khamenei is presented with the makings of a deal that he perceives as addressing the Islamic Republic’s core interests, historical precedent suggests he will pursue it.” Myriad examples exist of Khamenei cooperating with Washington, from his agreement to share intelligence on Afghanistan to his more recent acquiescence to talks over Iran’s nuclear program. Khamenei is hardly a friend of the United States, but neither is he some irrational actor driven by “deeply paranoid behaviour.”
Coughlin’s armchair psychology, effective as it is at imparting a sense of superiority to the reader, muddles the facts and presents a wholly inaccurate view of a man the West will never come to understand through such howlers.