But Obama and Rouhani never met in person, and, while Obama left office in 2017, Rouhani is still in power. The real photo was taken at a 2011 meeting between Obama and then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
It’s at least the third time in two months that the lawmaker has tweeted conspiratorial messages or misinformation. In November, he posted an acrostic to his account that spelled out the phrase “Epstein didn’t kill himself,” an oft-memed claim referring to the death of jailed financier Jeffrey Epstein. The day after, in a now-deleted tweet, Gosar signal-boosted a conspiracy theory suggesting that George Soros’s son was the whistleblower who triggered the House’s impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
His latest tweet comes as Iranian-American relations have sunk to their recent nadir in the days since a U.S. airstrike killed one of Iran’s top military commanders, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, in an escalation that fueled fears of another regional war in the Middle East.
On Monday, 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: “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 criticize him.
“The world would be a better place if elected officials didn’t share photoshopped images and take pride in being ignorant,” Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) said on Twitter. “This is irresponsible.”
Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) 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: “Mainstream Republicans are totally fine with this type of disinformation and hope you share it in outrage.”
Pfeiffer also defended the idea of an Obama-Rouhani meeting (which, again, never 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 U.S. president since 1979 to have a direct conversation with his Iranian counterpart. The Obama administration would go on to negotiate the Iran nuclear deal, finalizing 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 Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) 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.”
Nevertheless, the group later cut it from the ad.