Iran’s Rhetoric Aggression: Instrumentalizing Foreign Policy Power through the Media

Iran’s domestic politics and regional ambition have taken strength from the country’s conduct of a defensive
foreign strategy through a policy of ‘rhetoric aggression’- a strident security discourse of radical pragmatism
projected onto the public square to achieve specific foreign policy gains outside the use of force. The
language of rhetoric aggression, constructed in the heat of popular upheaval, emerged as a mechanism
first to tie the population together after the experience of authoritarian rule, secondly to protect the Iranian
revolution from outside threat - particularly from the Great Satan, and thirdly to project Iran’s Islamic world
view as a united community, or ummah, of all Muslims against Western intervention and norms, a worldview it
saw itself as leading. Prior to the nuclear deal, Iran’s focus of rhetoric aggression was squarely on the US and
was as much a defensive mechanism to protect its self-image from America’s negative representations as an
offensive one to project similarly toxic language toward Washington; today rhetoric aggression has found a
new theater, the war of words with Saudi Arabia. For almost 40 years, Iran has adeptly utilized the media as
an instrument of foreign policy in the absence of direct diplomatic relations with the US. In mediating public
opinion, it has capitalized on journalism’s use of drama, framing, and other aspects of information transfer
– including online and through social media. This research explores how Iran has mediated its foreign
policy instrument of rhetoric aggression to project its power, protect its self-constituted image abroad, deflect
attacks on Shi’ism and promote the idea of a strong Islam – and how this mediated discursive economy has
differed in the periods before and after the nuclear deal.