His latest tweet comes as Iranian-American relations have sunk in the days since a US airstrike killed Iran’s top military commander, Major-General Qassem Soleimani, an escalation that fuelled fears of another regional war in the Middle East.
When commenters pointed out that the photo was a hoax, Gosar doubled down, calling his critics “dim witted” and implying that he knew the photo was fake.
“No one said this wasn’t photoshopped,” Gosar said in a follow-up tweet. “No one said the president of Iran was dead. No one said Obama met with Rouhani in person.”
And in a third tweet, Gosar seemed to edit his first photo caption, adding the word “will”: “The world is better without Obama as president. The world will be better off without Rouhani.”
“The point remains to all but the dimmest,” Gosar wrote. “Obama coddled, appeased, nurtured and protected the worlds No. 1 sponsor of terror.”
Gosar’s congressional colleagues were quick to criticise him.
“The world would be a better place if elected officials didn’t share photoshopped images and take pride in being ignorant,” Democratic representative Sean Casten said on Twitter. “This is irresponsible.”
Democrat David Cicilline added: “Make no mistake, this is exactly the kind of thing Republicans are going to do in 2020 to hold onto power.”
Dan Pfeiffer, co-host of the podcast Pod Save America and one of Obama’s former senior advisers, wrote on Twitter that “Mainstream Republicans are totally fine with this type of disinformation and hope you share it in outrage.”
But Pfeiffer also defended the idea of an Obama-Rouhani meeting (which, again, never actually happened), saying, “There would have been nothing wrong with Obama meeting with Rouhani.”
In 2013, Obama did speak to Rouhani by phone, becoming the first US president since 1979 to have a direct conversation with his Iranian counterpart. The Obama administration would go on to negotiate the Iran nuclear deal, finalising the accord in 2015.
Even Trump has said he would meet with Rouhani “anytime they want” with no preconditions.
“I’ll meet with anybody,” Trump said at a 2018 news conference, weeks after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I believe in meeting . . . there’s nothing wrong with meeting.”
Like many doctored photos circulating through the online ecosystem, the one Gosar shared this week has surfaced before. The conservative political action committee Restoration PAC used the picture in a 2015 television ad promoting the anti-Iran stance of Republican Senator Ron Johnson, and dubbing the nuclear deal a “toothless agreement that makes us less safe”.
With an ominous voice-over, the ad warns of “radical Islamist leaders”, shows still images from an Islamic State propaganda video and then pans over the fake photo of Obama and Rouhani. After BuzzFeed News reported that the image was altered, a Restoration PAC spokesman defended the use of the image, telling FactCheck.org that “it indeed is in circulation widely on the internet”.
The group later cut it from the ad.