Commentary Magazine


Did Obama Want Ahmadinejad to Win?

The idea expressed in the headline is not at all outlandish. There is a body of conventional opinion that suggests the only real way for the president to make a deal with Iran is if the hardliner remains in charge after the election, because the supposed “reformist” would have to stay away from the United States to prove his hard-line bona fides. This view is most plainly expressed in a piece in the new issue of Newsweek. Written the day before the balloting, the piece by correspondent Babak Dehghanpisheh offers this telling observation:

Any outreach to the United States…counterintuitively, is more likely with Ahmadinejad’s reelection. [The Ayatollah] Khamenei might have had qualms about allowing a more liberal president to initiate talks, but in Ahmadinejad he has a tough negotiator sure to drive a hard bargain on all issues, including the country’;s neuclear program. And it was on Ahmadinejad’s watch, after all, that the U.S. and Irans had their most extensive meetings in 30 years…

The rest of the article is entirely conventional in its make-up, which leads me to believe what Dehghanpisheh has written here reflects a certain kind of conventional wisdom in journalist-policymaker circles. In another example of this sort of thinking, the Leveretts, Mr. Flynt and Mrs. Hillary,  have published a second in their evidently-never-ending series of paeans to the political skills of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in which they praise Obama for apologizing for the 1953 CIA-led coup in Iran against Muhammad Mossadeq and criticize him for even suggesting on the day of the election that it was good there was a debate in Iran (“extremely maladroit…undercut the credibility of Obama’s acknowledgment…”) What the Leverett argument reveals is that there is a substantial body of opinion that believes the United States would do best to have Ahmadinejad as a negotiating partner—and given the conventional nature of this opinion, it might well have been expressed inside Obama’s high councils and thereby explain the president’s continuing refusal to take a moral stand in the midst of this major event.