After all the speculation about change in Iran, that country’s Interior Ministry and state media are now claiming that 70 percent of the votes counted so far have gone to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This, of course, represents a preposterous margin and is evidence, if any was needed, of the sham that was Friday’s proceedings. The mullahs want Ahmadinejad to stay where he is.
In at least two important and related senses it never mattered who won Friday. First, the nuclear issue: As Max pointed out earlier, the “reformer” candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi is as intractable on Iran’s enrichment program as is Ahmadinejad. Second, on the prospects for Iranian democracy: the four candidates were pre-approved by the mullahs for their stellar Khomeinist credentials (471 potential candidates were discarded beforehand for not cutting the Revolutionary mustard). Moreover, as the 70 percent “results” show, even a slight move toward true representative government was never in the offing.
From the American standpoint, the most significant development related to the election came from the U.S. itself. Asked about the voting in Iran, Barack Obama said, “Ultimately the election is for the Iranians to decide. You’re seeing people looking at new possibilities. And whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there’s been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways.” For someone who sees false choices everywhere, he sure was snoozing on this one.
Obama’s was a depressingly bad answer. For what does this now say about America’s attitude toward Friday’s insult to democracy? Does the American president really believe that the Iranian public decided the outcome? Does he think that 70 percent of the vote went to Ahmadinejad as the result of a “robust debate”? This will necessarily be received in all the wrong ways by all the wrong parties. The mullahs and Ahmadinejad will see the U.S. as endorsing and legitimizing their democracy fraud. The genuine democrats of Iran will believe Obama is either hopelessly naive about or cynically complicit in their own continued imprisonment.
What’s worse is Obama has handicapped our ability to get on the right side of what seems to be palpable protest in Iran. For Moussavi is also claiming victory. More than that, he’s openly alleging widespread voter fraud and election rigging — and he has an army of supporters. Yet, the most free and powerful democracy on the planet has indicated its support for the legitimacy of Friday’s electoral process. Despite the Left’s straw man about America’s need to see the true pluralistic face of Iran, we’ve long known about Iranians’ frustration with their leadership. If there was ever a chance for organic change to find purchase in Iran, this is it. With record voter turnout and disgust over Tehran’s incompetent leadership at an all-time high, the Iranian public is poised for something truly startling. And here we are, stuck on the wrong side — in the interest of “mutual respect.”