A discussion with Megan Rivers of UCLA Center for the Middle East Development regarding the newly-published book: “The Political Ideology of Ayatollah Khamenei: Out of the Mouth of the Supreme Leader of Iran,” on August 4, 2015.
- Tell us about The Political Ideology of Ayatollah Khamenei. What is this book about and how is this book different from other scholarship in the field on Ayatollah Khamenei?
This is the first book that identifies and analyzes the development and evolution of the theocratic ideology of the Supreme Leader through words spoken out of his own mouth. The book provides new insight into Khamenei’s politico-religious thought and behavior and their impact on Iran’s policies domestically, regionally and internationally. In other words, it reconstructs an overview of Khamenei’s theocratic ideology from extant records. Its goal is to provide an interpretive guide with which to assess and analyze the man, his worldview, and the complexity of the interaction between the religious and political spheres within which his decision-making takes place.
It is also the first book that answers critical questions such as who is Ayatollah Khamenei and how does he really think about critical issues such as the Iranian youth and Iran after Khamenei. Or, Iran’s controversial nuclear program and the extensive negotiations with the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. Why Khamenei allowed Iran to come to the negotiating table? What is Khamenei’s attitude toward Arab-Israeli peace talks and his political posture toward Iran’s “chief regional enemy” (Israel) and Iran’s “chief global enemy” (the US)? It also examines Khamenei’s policies toward the region and his vision to transform Iran into a regional and global superpower.
The book also identifies and analyzes major themes at the core of Khamenei’s theocratic personality and outlook and analyzes their interactions with one another and their impact on Iran’s domestic and foreign policies. For example, I have analyzed Khamenei’s perceptions and interpretation of the supremacy of Islam and their influence on his decision-making; or his views about America, Palestine, and Israel; his interpretation and objectives of Muslim unity and the export of Iran’s Islamic culture; his definition of political freedom and independence; domestic progress; Iran’s nuclear program; and his views about Iranian youth; and democracy under the umbrella of the Islamic Republic which in this case would be religious democracy.
2. Who did you write this book for or who is your target audience? Who will benefit from reading this book and why?
This book was born out of my doctoral dissertation and as a book, it is a research monograph and is intended to serve as a tool for students, scholars, researchers, journalists, diplomats and policymakers focusing on Middle Eastern politics, Iranian and Islamic studies, international studies and history. It is also an essential resource for those interested in understanding Iran’s role in contemporary world politics. It is addressed as well to those interested in Iranian policies toward Israel, the United States, and the Muslim world from the perspectives of its top leader.
The objective of this study has been to provide a deep comprehension of the personality, character, and political behavior of one of the most complex and important world leaders of our time.
My aim from writing this book was to help foster a new dialogue among world leaders, policymakers, intellectuals, scholars, and ordinary citizens especially Western and Iranian youth with hopes of achieving a greater understanding about Iran, Iran’s politico-religious thinking and worldview from the perspectives of its top leader. My hope is that such knowledge may lead to openness, diplomacy, engagement, transparency, trust and engagement.
As an autocratic leader, after nearly 36 years since the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei remains absolutely committed to the Islamic Revolution and Khomeinism. He defines Khomeinism as doctrines and principles of the government of Ayatollah Khomeini (the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution). Several examples of Khomeinism are an isolationist foreign policy of “Neither East, Nor West” which means resistance to any coercion or influence by foreign powers; commitment to Muslim unity and removal of barriers to the unity of the Muslim community; continuous support for the deprived Muslim nations, primarily Palestine; staunch resistance to Israel as an “occupying regime;” and the export of Iran’s Islamic revolutionary values into the Muslim world and the global community.
Khamenei’s 10-fold vision for Iran, the region, and the global community is outlined in the conclusion of my book, on page 359.
- Given the nuclear accord how would it make a difference if someone reads this book? How will this book help scholars, policymakers, diplomats, ordinary citizens, and those interested in learning more about Iran? Why should they read this book?
This book informs the reader of how the Iranian leadership thinks, in particular, Iran’s key decision maker, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
If we have any hopes of resolving the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program or any possible diplomatic breakthrough, we need to understand how Iranian or the Middle Eastern mindset works and how people in the Middle East think and how this is different from the Western mentality. This book helps readers understand that how Khamenei acts today is mainly based on what he has experienced and said in the past. If policymakers really want to know how Khamenei is going to go forward with critical domestic and foreign policies, they need to hear and see what he has said and done in the past or how he has acted upon these policies in the past.
- You read and translated a lot of material…over 1000 speeches, 100 interviews, the Supreme Leader’s biographies and writings, and material published in the Islamic Republic in their original Persian Farsi language. Based on your extensive research and analysis, how would you define Ayatollah Khamenei as a person and as a leader?
As an autocratic leader, after nearly 36 years since the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei remains absolutely committed to the ideals of the Islamic Revolution and Khomeinism. He defines Khomeinism as doctrines and principles of the government of Ayatollah Khomeini or the direction the Iranian nation has taken to move forward after Khomeini’s death. Several examples of Khomeinism are an isolationist foreign policy of “Neither East, Nor West” which means resistance to any coercion or influence by foreign powers, in particular the United States; commitment to Muslim unity and removal of barriers to the unity of the Muslim community; continuous support for “the deprived Muslim nations,” primarily Palestine; staunch resistance to Israel as an “occupying regime;” and the export of Iran’s Islamic revolutionary values into the Muslim world and the global community.
Part of Khamenei’s 10-fold vision for Iran includes:
- Iran’s status as the leading regional power and a global superpower
- Iran’s position as the authoritative world leader in science and technology and as the world’s hub for global scientific knowledge
- Iran’s possession of unchallenged economic, political, and military strength
- Iran’s ability to spread its Islamic culture throughout the world using its soft power through soft diplomacy
Khamenei repeatedly encourages the Iranian nation, especially the young people, to engage in sports and to participate in international sporting competitions to spread the values of the Islamic Revolution into the hearts and minds of the young people of the global community, as well as to introduce the Persian and Iranian culture. Based on his public discourses, he views sports as a diplomatic tool that extends Iran’s soft power and spreads Iran’s Islamic culture into the world. Khamenei also loves Persian tea and enjoys serving tea to his guests.
- What do you think Americans and American policymakers most need to know about the Supreme Leader’s worldview?
Foreign leaders, policymakers, and those interested in diplomatic engagement with Iran must take Ayatollah Khamenei’s authoritarian theocratic personality and outlook into account. They must understand, as fully as possible, the core elements of the Leader’s ideology and be aware of how the implications of that ideology shape Iran’s domestic and foreign policies. In other words, they have to know that his religious thinking supersedes any other ideology and is articulated in a complex way that words and phrases that he uses that seem democratic or inclusive or cooperative on the world stage may or may not be. Also that his wishes constitute the last word in all decision-making in Iran.
- What are some of the interpretive methods you used to analyze this extensive material and interpret Khamenei’s theocratic behavior?
To accomplish these goals, I used a thematic and chronological approach of analyzing Supreme Leader Khamenei’s speeches, writings, biographies and other literature published by the Islamic Republic of Iran beginning with his birth, early life and political activism during Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolutionary movement (1939-1979), his role in the Islamic government after the establishment of the Islamic Republic (1979-1981), his eight-year presidency which coincided with Iran-Iraq War (1981-1988), and his rule as the second Supreme Leader after the demise of Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of Iran’s Islamic Revolution (1989-end of 2014).
I have used five key elements in my identification, analysis and interpretation of Khamenei’s theocratic worldview: (1) Shiʿi Islamic thought; (2) Iran’s Islamic revolutionary philosophy; (3) themes at the center of Khamenei’s worldview and their interactions with one another; (4) the nuances of Persian culture and language; (5) poetic and clerical influences. And finally, putting all translations within the context of English language.
- In your book, when defining Ayatollah Khamenei, you emphasize knowledge and the importance he places on obtaining knowledge. How does pursuit of knowledge play in his domestic or foreign policies?
Learning and pursuit of knowledge was a pivotal component to Khamenei’s discipline in his early years. As a leader, attaining knowledge translated into progress. When Khamenei became Supreme Leader, from the outset of his Leadership, he strongly advocated the principle of progress as he defined it in all its dimensions religious, spiritual, economic, political, military, scientific, social, and cultural. He sees progress as a key component of nation-building and integral to national security and independence from foreign powers. Progress is a weapon that can be used to fight “Iran’s colonization, oppression, domination, and ostracization” (CODO) by “globalized domineering powers” (i.e. the US) and expand this quote unquote “freedom” to the rest of the Muslim world. It can also project Iranian power regionally and internationally.
- Which was the most difficult chapter to write and why?
First of all, the most difficult chapters to write were the four presidential chapters: from President Rafsanjani to President Rouhani. The challenge was selecting the one domestic or foreign policy that would best define that administration alongside Khamenei’s theocratic framework as the Supreme Leader.
Secondly, the most challenging chapter was the theme chapter, America. The hostile rhetoric used by the Supreme Leader to describe the US and its allies (especially Israel), and US policies toward Iran and the Muslim world made writing this chapter very difficult to a point that I hesitated including this chapter in the book.
- Why did you decide to include the “America” chapter?
In September 2013, at the UN General Assembly, President Rouhani proposed the WAVE Act (World Against Violence and Extremism). If there are any hopes for Iran combating violence and extremism or hopes for peace, security and diplomacy, then it is critical to Iran’s foes, especially the United States to understand Supreme Leader Khamenei’s views about America and his historical grievances. It is also critical for Ayatollah Khamenei to see his hostile rhetoric in these pages and understand why Iran’s regional and international foes and even ordinary citizens may hesitate in trusting Iran’s intentions regionally and globally. I am hoping this chapter will open up a new political discourse and a new understanding of Iran by key global policymakers, especially those in the US.
- As the subtitle of the book suggests, Out of the Mouth of the Supreme Leader of Iran, you have used Ayatollah Khamenei’s own statements to present facts and tell the story when needed. You seem to be very laid back with your voice as the author of this rich scholarship. Why? Why did you choose this approach instead of voicing your own personal views?
The objective of this book is to present Supreme Leader Khamenei’s theocratic personality and behavior based on his own words and their impact on Iranian politics and policies. The purpose of this approach was for my reader to get to know Ayatollah Khamenei based on his own statements so the reader can learn and understand Khamenei as a person and as a leader based on his own beliefs and conclusions. I did not insert myself and my beliefs into any part of this book with the exception of the conclusion because Khamenei has to be understood as he presents himself and Iran, not how I think or feel or believe, but based on his own understanding, perception and interpretation.
- If Supreme Leader Khamenei strives for knowledge and achievement in science and technology, then why did he support the nuclear deal? Wouldn’t the nuclear deal place restrictions on his hopes for an Iran advanced in science and technology and a “scientific hub” for the Muslim world and the global community?
Based on my analysis of Supreme leader Khamenei’s theocratic worldview and intentions for Iran, he seems to be preparing Iran for the conclusion of his leadership and the arrival of the third Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This requires tactical calculations that will assure sustainability of the regime, eliminating the possibilities of any civil war, or a military coup by foreign powers, especially the United States. Khamenei wants to make sure all economic sanctions are lifted from Iran prior to his departure to assure economic growth, and at the same time, eliminate any military threats against Iran due to its controversial nuclear program. For him, short term restrictions placed on Iran’s nuclear program outweigh the costs of a possible military strike against Iran, a collapse of its economy, civil unrest, overthrow of the regime, or cultural invasion by foreign powers after his demise. By agreeing to place short term limits on Iran’s nuclear program, Khamenei reasons that this will assure the long term security of his autocratic regime.
- Based on your understanding of the Supreme Leader, in your opinion will Ayatollah Khamenei ever change his rhetoric toward the US, Israel or those he considers to be members of the “arrogant powers” and reduce his threatening attacks on Israel or recognize Israel’s right to exist?
Not necessarily. One challenge to Iran’s success in gaining acceptance as a peaceful member of the international community is the Supreme Leader’s hostile rhetoric toward the US, the West, Israel, and those he considers enemies of Islam and the Islamic Republic.
While Khamenei believes that Iran’s demonization of the West domestically and regionally may appeal to the militant sector of Iranian society or the Muslim community, at the same time, hopes for any diplomatic ties with the West that would benefit Iranians may never be achieved through a hostile rhetoric filled with anger, hatred, and calls for “death” to America and Israel.
It is possible that Ayatollah Khamenei may reconsider his rhetoric and move Iran beyond the painful historical experiences with the United States, and finally accept the legitimacy of Israel. He may finally come to the conclusion that the majority of Iranians, including President Rouhani’s government, have moved beyond divisive rhetoric and policies that isolate them from the rest of the world. He may even listen to the majority of the Iranian young people who wish to integrate with the global community and engage peaceably with the world, including the U.S.
However, based on my analysis, we may not see this change occur anytime soon or even during Khamenei’s lifetime. But I hope he will soon realize that belligerent pronouncements made by the Supreme Leader of Iran intensifies the concerns of the international community about Iran’s nuclear program and arouses questions about Iran’s true intentions whether Iran is pursuing a bomb or peaceful nuclear energy, or whether Iran intends regional stability or spread extremism and violence. Iran is still considered by the US State Department as a ‘state in sponsor of terrorism.’ My hope is that this book will give birth to a new discourse and awareness and cause Ayatollah Khamenei to reconsider his hostile rhetoric and policies.
- Should the US sign the nuclear deal, any chance Iranian revolutionary guards and similar theocratic groups could try to disrupt the settlement by overthrowing the government, especially after Khamenei’s tenure in power?
Political unrest in Iran after Khamenei’s death is a major concern for Iran’s top leaders even with a nuclear deal in place. This is one of the reasons the Supreme Leader is now trying to make sure that all sanctions are removed under the terms of the nuclear deal and that Iran’s nuclear status becomes normalized within the international community after a “short period.” The demand for restrictions on military advances, especially on Iran’s ballistic missile industry, is a highly contentious issue among top Iranian policymakers. For IRGC Commanders, this is crossing Iran’s “red lines.”
- The Iran nuclear deal obviously seems to mark a crucial turning point of some kind in Iran’s and Supreme Leader Khamenei’s relationship to the US and the West. From your detailed study of Khamenei’s political thought and revolutionary Islamic ideology, what do you think the significance of the deal is from his perspective?
For Ayatollah Khamenei Iran’s successful negotiation of a deal with the US despite decades of sanctions and relentless opposition to its nuclear program dramatically confirms Iran’s superiority as a hegemonic regional power on the world stage. The Supreme Leader, President Rouhani, and Foreign Minister Zarif have all indicated that Iran came to the negotiating table from a position of great strength not weakness. In their view, the fact that the US and other members of P5+1 “had no choice but to negotiate a deal with Iran” is a demonstration of the reach of Iran’s political power and an acknowledgement of the magnitude of its achievement in developing nuclear technology. From their perspective, short-term restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program are a price worth paying for the long-term benefits achieved by the other provisions of the agreement.
- What do you think is the main significance of the Iran deal for American interests from the perspective of the Obama administration?
- The nuclear agreement with Iran gives the US the ability to prohibit Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iran will now be one of the most inspected and verified regimes in the world.
- The nuclear deal gives diplomacy a chance. Diplomatic resolutions of many issues are now possible that might have given rise to military confrontation in its absence.
- The deal severely limits Iran’s ability to accelerate its nuclear program and move toward weaponization.
- The deal assures Israel’s security, regional security and the security of the US and its allies for the next 15 years.
- Do you see potential future difficulties for either or both sides in living up to the terms of the treaty in the differences between each side’s interpretation of what good the deal accomplishes for the future of international relations and future of geopolitical alignments?
In my opinion both sides face a rocky road, especially after the inevitable changes in Iran’s leadership after Khamenei’s demise. I already notice divergences caused by cultural, linguistic, and political differences between each side’s interpretations of the deal. This will be a critical issue that both sides must be prepared to handle. I’m concerned that the world will be back discussing these same matters three decades from now. At that time, I will not be surprised if Iran has a leader with ambitions to build a nuclear weapon. In my opinion, Iran will eventually pursue a nuclear weapon, especially if IRGC gains stronger hold in Iran after Ayatollah Khamenei’s demise. I have discussed this briefly in the conclusion of my book and provided the reasoning behind this conclusion.
- Secretary of State John Kerry said that he “didn’t know how to interpret” Khamenei’s July 18 message to Iranian officials and ambassadors of Islamic states that “Iran’s Middle East policies were exactly the opposite of US policies.” If you were interpreting the meaning of Khamenei’s July 18 speech for Secretary Kerry and the State Department, what would you say its meaning was?
Understanding Khamenei requires specific interpretive skills as discussed previously. To correctly understand what Ayatollah Khamenei was saying one has to examine his speech from different lenses. First, the date of the speech is significant. This speech was given around the anniversary of Iranian Prime Minister Mosaddeq’s movement of nationalization of Iran’s oil and his 1952 resignation due to foreign pressures. I have discussed this in detail in my book and presented Khamenei’s views on this issue. Also, this speech was given prior to Secretary Kerry’s travel to the Middle East and meeting with the Gulf States. Therefore, Khamenei was targeting a policy issue from historical perspectives and current political developments.
Second, a critical issue is the audience. Khamenei was speaking to the Iranian officials and ambassadors to Islamic countries. However, his target audience was three-fold: his domestic audience was divided between conservatives and moderates (those against a nuclear deal including IRGC Commanders and those in support of a deal including President Rouhani’s camp), his regional audience was divided between Iran’s foes and allies, and his international audience was divided between those in support of the nuclear deal and those opposing the deal, specifically US policymakers.
Third, the critical unfolding events including the July 14th nuclear accord, growing opposition against a nuclear deal especially among US policymakers, and accusations of Iran as a state in sponsor of terrorism.
In a nutshell, here is the message Khamenei was sending to the US administration and policymakers about his perception of US policies toward Iran and the Middle East and what he will or will not tolerate:
- This is how Khamenei defined US policies toward Iran and the Middle East:
- US’s intent IS NOT to combat terrorism in the region but to give rise to terrorism through the “region’s most terrorist state—Israel;”
- US’s intent IS NOT to fight violence and extremism or advance security but to give further rise to insecurity and sectarian violence and division between Sunnis and Shia through ISIL (or ISIS);
- US’s intent IS NOT peace and stability in troubled countries such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, but regime change while disregarding the wishes and choices of the people of these nations;
- US’s intent IS NOT creating diplomatic relations with Iran and respecting the sovereignty of Iran as an independent and sovereign nation but intending to cause regime change post nuclear deal.
- US’s intent IS NOT accepting Iran as a critical partner in regional matters but intending to weaken Iran’s position within the region while strengthening Israel’s position and US’s Arab allies through military support.
- Conclusions and message to the Iranian leadership:
- Statements made by Supreme Leader Khamenei in this message after a nuclear deal is beyond rhetoric. This message clearly voices Khamenei’s true perceptions of the US and clearly outlines his policies:
- Iranians and Muslim world to continue to remain vigilant about US strategies of “domination.” The only prescription for the Muslim world today is unity. Muslim nations and people must unite;
- A nuclear deal does not translate into US-Iran diplomatic ties;
- Hatred for the US and US policies toward Iran and the Middle East, and dread of possible cultural invasion and political domination of Iranian society will remain in place;
- Iran’s isolationist policy of “Neither East, Nor West” remains in full force;
- Struggle against Israel will continue;
- Efforts to spread of the ideals of Iran’s Islamic Revolution throughout the Muslim world will continue.
- While Khamenei continues to show his support for the nuclear deal and the negotiating team, and asks the nation to come together in unity to support the efforts of the negotiating team and stop their divisive arguments, he is displaying absolute mistrust of “ultimate” US intentions.
- Understanding and grasping these facts are important and critical to the US policymakers as they move forward into the future after the Iran nuclear deal and attempt diplomatic relations with Iran. Policymakers need to clearly hear and understand Supreme Leader Khamenei’s statements that have grave implications and influence on formulating Iran’s domestic and foreign policies. The US administration needs to clearly understand the message Iran’s top autocrat is sending them and what he is telling them. In this message he has outlined rules of diplomacy for a post nuclear deal:
- DO NOT interfere in Iran’s domestic affairs
- DO NOT interfere in Iran’s regional affairs
- STOP your support for Israel
- STOP supporting extremist groups within the region
- STOP your “coercive and domineering policies” within the region
- Statements made by Supreme Leader Khamenei in this message after a nuclear deal is beyond rhetoric. This message clearly voices Khamenei’s true perceptions of the US and clearly outlines his policies:
- What signs should people be looking for to determine whether the nuclear agreement is working well? Do you have hopes that it will have beneficial effects for the world, or are you pessimistic?
Nothing is guaranteed after Khamenei’s demise or even during the remaining of his Leadership. This is simply the reality of Iran’s system of governance. Policymakers need to keep in mind that should the Supreme Leader Khamenei perceives the existence of an existential threat against the Islamic Republic i.e., military strike by US or Israel, he has the authority to call upon a “defensive war” and prepare Iran militarily. This preparation may include nuclear weaponization. Furthermore, the next Supreme Leader of Iran can issue a different fatwa (decree) and override Supreme Leader Khamenei’s decisions with respect to the course Iran has committed itself to by signing the nuclear agreement. Right now, Khamenei is attempting to stabilize Iran’s polity and policymaking by securing Iran’s internal political system. He is trying to make sure that the religious, economic, social, and cultural policies through which the leadership of the Iranian Revolution hoped to transform the Iranian society remain, and prepare the nation to play a major role on the world stage will last.
- What are your hopes this book will accomplish?
It is my hope that this book will give birth to a new dialogue in the world among scholars, intellectuals, diplomats, policymakers and ordinary citizens. Hopefully, this discourse can lead to a global openness, diplomacy, engagement, transparency, trust, and education.
20. Do you think there is anything in this book that will surprise readers about the Supreme Leader?
There are a number of things.
- First, readers will be surprised for the first time to read the story of the Islamic Revolution, Khamenei’s childhood, political activism, and his quarter century Leadership through Khamenei telling the story himself.
- The theme chapters – America, Freedom, Iranian youth, Muslim unity and religious democracy will be most surprising to the readers as they hear Khamenei expressing his views on these critical issues.
- For a long time, there has been a misconception held by many people including policymakers that the Iranian president has ultimate authority over Iran’s domestic and foreign policies. Whereas in reality the Supreme Leader has the final word on every policy carried out by the Executive Branch.
- Readers will find it intriguing to read about strategies Supreme Leader Khamenei has used during his Leadership to marginalize the power of the Executive Branch, including his best friend Hashemi Rafsanjani, when the president’s policies have collided with Khamenei’s policy preferences.
- Readers will find it interesting to learn how different interpretations of the economic reconstruction era after Ayatollah Khomeini’s death and the end of Iran-Iraq War caused major struggles between the two top leaders (Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Rafsanjani). I show how an economic reconstruction policy led the Executive Branch to adopt an open door policy with the US that was in odds with Supreme Leader’s policy preferences, which resulted in a severe clash between the two leaders.
- This chapter helps readers, especially policymakers to become more aware of Khamenei’s interpretive methods and perhaps apply this knowledge in finalizing Iran’s nuclear deal. I would caution P5+1 policymakers and those involved in finalizing the terms of the nuclear accord to pay special attention to differences in the interpretive methods of the agreed upon text between Iranian leadership and members of the sextet. Understanding cultural reading of the text and different interpretive methods is critical in this important process.
- Did you uncover anything about his worldview that surprised you or that you were not expecting?
I was surprised to learn how savvy Khamenei is. Contrary to the general perception held by many scholars, Khamenei is extremely tactical and calculated in his speech making and in formulating his policies.
- Anything else you would like to add before we conclude our interview?
First, I would like to thank you for your time, Megan. It has been a pleasure speaking with you. Second, I would like to thank UCLA’s Center for Middle East Development and Dr. Spiegel for including my book in CMED’s series. As you know, I completed my doctoral studies under several prominent Middle East scholars including Drs. Spiegel and Binder of UCLA, and Dr. Dekmejian of USC. From the onset of this project, Dr. Spiegel saw the importance of this topic in world politics. He imparted to me the urgency of my topic during this critical time of extreme tension fueled by doubts about Iran’s intentions and its behavior as a growing and potentially destabilizing regional power in the Middle East. I applaud President Obama and all the members of the US Congress, including members of the Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee, for their diligence and efforts to assure national and global security by eliminating Iran’s ability to move toward nuclear weaponization. Finally, I want to wish President Obama a happy 54TH birthday and once again thank him for his leadership and diplomatic efforts around the globe.