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Topic: Iranian presidential election

Election of “Moderate” Helps Iran’s Tyrant

Say what you will about Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He may lead a totalitarian theocracy that squelches freedom and threatens the region with its nuclear program and spews anti-Western and anti-Semitic filth at the world. But he is not incapable of learning a simple lesson about international politics. Four years ago, he stood back and allowed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to steal the country’s presidential election thus consigning Iran to four more years of being represented to the world by a vulgar buffoon. The violent suppression of protesters in Tehran worsened Iran’s already terrible reputation and Ahmadinejad’s role as the regime’s most visible figure made it easier to rally international support for sanctions against Iran to force it to drop its nuclear ambitions. But this time around, Khamenei wasn’t going to make the same mistake. Rather than taking action to ensure the election of a candidate more closely identified with him, he allowed a cleric who is a strong supporter of the Islamist government but not one of his personal followers to breeze to an easy victory in Friday’s election. It’s the smartest thing he’s done in years.

Hassan Rowhani is the new president of Iran, but though the vote is seen as a setback for Khamenei, the supreme leader is actually the big winner. Having seen how Ahmadinejad’s antics and open expression of hatred made it easier to sell Western governments on the necessity of taking the Iranian threat seriously, Khamenei is right to think Rowhani’s victory will be interpreted by many in the Western foreign policy establishment as a chance to see if Iran is taking a step back from the nuclear precipice. But as with past “moderates” who won the presidency, Rowhani may be the new face of the regime but it won’t change a thing about who runs Iran, its support for Bashar Assad and Hezbollah terrorism, or its drive for nuclear weapons. The alleged moderate—whose views on those issues don’t deviate a whit from those of Khamenei anyway—won’t have any influence on those matters.

Rowhani’s election will make it more complicated for those who want to press Iran harder to give up its nuclear program and strengthen the voices of those useful idiots in the West (like the editorial board of the New York Times) who will argue that Rowhani’s election is a good reason to devote another year or two or three to dead-end diplomatic efforts that will do nothing but give Iran more time to achieve its nuclear goal.

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Say what you will about Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He may lead a totalitarian theocracy that squelches freedom and threatens the region with its nuclear program and spews anti-Western and anti-Semitic filth at the world. But he is not incapable of learning a simple lesson about international politics. Four years ago, he stood back and allowed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to steal the country’s presidential election thus consigning Iran to four more years of being represented to the world by a vulgar buffoon. The violent suppression of protesters in Tehran worsened Iran’s already terrible reputation and Ahmadinejad’s role as the regime’s most visible figure made it easier to rally international support for sanctions against Iran to force it to drop its nuclear ambitions. But this time around, Khamenei wasn’t going to make the same mistake. Rather than taking action to ensure the election of a candidate more closely identified with him, he allowed a cleric who is a strong supporter of the Islamist government but not one of his personal followers to breeze to an easy victory in Friday’s election. It’s the smartest thing he’s done in years.

Hassan Rowhani is the new president of Iran, but though the vote is seen as a setback for Khamenei, the supreme leader is actually the big winner. Having seen how Ahmadinejad’s antics and open expression of hatred made it easier to sell Western governments on the necessity of taking the Iranian threat seriously, Khamenei is right to think Rowhani’s victory will be interpreted by many in the Western foreign policy establishment as a chance to see if Iran is taking a step back from the nuclear precipice. But as with past “moderates” who won the presidency, Rowhani may be the new face of the regime but it won’t change a thing about who runs Iran, its support for Bashar Assad and Hezbollah terrorism, or its drive for nuclear weapons. The alleged moderate—whose views on those issues don’t deviate a whit from those of Khamenei anyway—won’t have any influence on those matters.

Rowhani’s election will make it more complicated for those who want to press Iran harder to give up its nuclear program and strengthen the voices of those useful idiots in the West (like the editorial board of the New York Times) who will argue that Rowhani’s election is a good reason to devote another year or two or three to dead-end diplomatic efforts that will do nothing but give Iran more time to achieve its nuclear goal.

Ahmadinejad has been the most visible Iranian on the international stage since the death of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the implacable cleric who led the revolution that drove out the shah and plunged the country into the long nightmare of Islamic rule. Though something of a populist in terms of Iranian politics, his willingness to openly express hatred for Jews and denial of the Holocaust made it easy for those in the West who are not normally interested in foreign affairs to understand the nature of the Islamist regime and why it posed a threat to the rest of the world. But as president of Iran the last eight years Ahmadinejad had no say in Tehran’s drive for nuclear weapons or its negotiating strategy with the West. In Iran’s system the supreme leader has the real power while the elected president and his government are responsible for picking up the garbage and running the bureaucracy. As Walter Russell Mead writes in his always insightful American Interest blog, the Iranian system gives the people a way to blow off steam about the government without diminishing the rule of the ayatollahs. Letting Ahmadinejad steal an extra four years as president deprived the Iranian people of that limited solace and Khamenei won’t make that mistake again. Rowhani, who was a devoted supporter of Khomeini, is no reformist. But while he will bear the burden of the Iranian people’s resentment for their desperate economic plight, he won’t be able to do anything to take the sort of action that might end the country’s isolation.

Nor is there any reason to believe that he will be a force for a change in nuclear policy inside Tehran’s councils. As the New York Times noted last month, Rowhani fiercely defended his reputation against attacks that he had undermined Iran’s nuclear program during his past service as a nuclear negotiator with the West. If anything, memory of his role in the talks between Iran and the West during the George W. Bush administration should chasten those who expect that Rowhani’s triumph will be an opportunity for a breakthrough in the nuclear talks. As a diplomat, Rowhani followed the same pattern as every other nuclear negotiator for the Islamist regime by looking to drag out talks while playing with the gullibility of those Westerners who are desperate to achieve some sort of agreement. This allowed Iran to buy more time for its nuclear program to get closer to its goal.

Replacing Ahmadinejad with Rowhani will make it easier for those who want to live with a nuclear Iran to argue against tightening sanctions as well as to oppose the eventual use of force. But as repellent as Ahmadinejad was, he was never the real problem about Iran. Should President Obama be persuaded to waste more time on an already failed policy that relies on sanctions and diplomacy to force Iran to drop its nuclear dream, he will be playing right into Khamenei’s hands.

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The Iran Election Optimists

Give Secretary of State John Kerry some credit. His blind faith in the magic of his diplomatic prowess has led him to embark on a futile effort to revive the Middle East peace process and to an equally foolish attempt to get Russia’s Putin regime to play ball with the United States on Syria. Such endeavors are more or less the moral equivalent of belief in the Tooth Fairy, but at least Kerry doesn’t think the Iranian presidential election going on today will have any impact on his equally fruitless efforts to craft a diplomatic solution to the standoff on Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. Last month Kerry rightly dismissed the notion that a new president chosen by the sham vote would have the slightest effect on the nuclear question since all power there rests in the hands of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But for those determined to ignore the truth about Iran’s intransigence as well as its phony election, that sort of a position is much too sensible. Hence the New York Times editorial today that said, “the election is important because it gives Iran and the United States a fresh diplomatic opportunity to avoid a dangerous confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program.”

It takes a special kind of tunnel vision to imagine that an election in which no one who opposes the policies of the Islamist regime is allowed to run and in which the candidates are competing for an office that does not have the power to change Iran’s foreign or nuclear policy is any kind of opportunity for the United States. But the willingness of the Times to hang its editorial hat on the election is instructive. The rationale for their argument is not so much a belief that Hassan Rowhani, the so-called “moderate” in the Iranian race, will really be able to influence Khamenei’s decisions as it is to nudge President Obama to offer Tehran more concessions in order to make the entire subject go away. The word “containment” does not appear in the editorial nor is it a policy that the administration says it is considering. But far from actually offering an option for the United States to “diplomatically rein in an Iranian nuclear program that could quickly produce a weapon,” a post-election initiative to make nice with the ayatollahs seems to aim at just such an accommodation. What the Times really seems to be doing is to try and smooth the way for an American decision to live with a nuclear Iran.

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Give Secretary of State John Kerry some credit. His blind faith in the magic of his diplomatic prowess has led him to embark on a futile effort to revive the Middle East peace process and to an equally foolish attempt to get Russia’s Putin regime to play ball with the United States on Syria. Such endeavors are more or less the moral equivalent of belief in the Tooth Fairy, but at least Kerry doesn’t think the Iranian presidential election going on today will have any impact on his equally fruitless efforts to craft a diplomatic solution to the standoff on Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. Last month Kerry rightly dismissed the notion that a new president chosen by the sham vote would have the slightest effect on the nuclear question since all power there rests in the hands of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But for those determined to ignore the truth about Iran’s intransigence as well as its phony election, that sort of a position is much too sensible. Hence the New York Times editorial today that said, “the election is important because it gives Iran and the United States a fresh diplomatic opportunity to avoid a dangerous confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program.”

It takes a special kind of tunnel vision to imagine that an election in which no one who opposes the policies of the Islamist regime is allowed to run and in which the candidates are competing for an office that does not have the power to change Iran’s foreign or nuclear policy is any kind of opportunity for the United States. But the willingness of the Times to hang its editorial hat on the election is instructive. The rationale for their argument is not so much a belief that Hassan Rowhani, the so-called “moderate” in the Iranian race, will really be able to influence Khamenei’s decisions as it is to nudge President Obama to offer Tehran more concessions in order to make the entire subject go away. The word “containment” does not appear in the editorial nor is it a policy that the administration says it is considering. But far from actually offering an option for the United States to “diplomatically rein in an Iranian nuclear program that could quickly produce a weapon,” a post-election initiative to make nice with the ayatollahs seems to aim at just such an accommodation. What the Times really seems to be doing is to try and smooth the way for an American decision to live with a nuclear Iran.

The point here is not so much an argument about the Iranian electoral system. Even the Times concedes the voting doesn’t mean the Iranian people have any kind of a voice in their government. Nor is there any reason to think the election of the “moderate” will influence the country’s nuclear decision making. Anyone who has followed the country’s politics since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 knows that such moderates only put a slightly more presentable face on a totalitarian regime that is inveterately hostile to the West and has genocidal impulses toward Israel.

The only possible way the election can be construed as an “opportunity” is not in terms of actually persuading Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Rather, it seems to be a chance for the president to do what the Times editorial board has often hinted is its real goal in the Iranian tangle: getting the president to begin walking back five years of promises never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

After more than a decade of Western diplomacy aimed at bribing or cajoling the Iranians to halt their nuclear program, there is no reason to believe further efforts—even those involving major concessions by the West—will succeed. Khamenei believes Obama is bluffing and, as with critics of his phony election, the supreme leader thinks he has the ability to tell everyone to go “to hell,” including Obama and Kerry.

President Obama knows, just like his cheerleaders at the Grey Lady, that time is running out to stop Iran, as the newspaper’s editorial language about nukes being “quickly produced” indicated. But the president’s faith in diplomacy has reinforced the Iranian belief that they have nothing to worry about from the West. More diplomacy of the kind the Times recommends is exactly what Khamenei and whichever of his stooges is elected president wants. Rather than using the election as a springboard for more doomed attempts at outreach to Tehran, President Obama should respond to the new president with the sort of credible warning about the consequences of further prevarication on Iran’s part that no one in the regime has ever really heard.

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Should We Be Rooting for Ahmadinejad?

The New York Times devotes considerable space on its front page this morning to a fascinating rundown on the contest to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran. Though this will involve voting and attempts to gain popular support, as Ahmadinejad’s re-election proved in 2009, the Iranian electoral system should not be confused with democracy. Just as the Iranian president is actually subordinate to the grand ayatollah who functions as a permanent supreme leader in terms of governing, the choices and the outcome of the Iranian election are also subject to the dictates of the ruling cleric and his fellow ayatollahs. That doesn’t mean that the infighting within the regime is not significant or that it shouldn’t be monitored closely. The differences between Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are, no doubt, quite real. But they ought not to be interpreted as a sign that the regime is in danger of falling or there is any significant divergence between them and their followers about keeping an Islamist government or maintaining the country’s dangerous nuclear ambitions.

But unfortunately that is probably the conclusion that many of the Times’s liberal readers will jump to after reading the piece since it brands Ahmadinejad and his faction as the “opposition” to the supreme leader. That may be true in the literal sense but, as even the article points out, that is the result of the fact that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei worked together to wipe out any real opposition to Islamist hegemony in 2009 as the United States stood silent. Like the Kremlinologists who spent decades trying to interpret the factions among the rulers of the Soviet Union before its fall, the point of much of the speculation about dissension among the ruling class in Iran is to try to throw cold water on policies intended to pressure the Islamist government. There is nothing wrong with keeping up on which of the tyrants of Tehran is gaining the upper hand on his colleagues. But the problem is that such discussions inevitably tempt Westerners to imagine that outreach to the supposed doves or liberals inside the regime will ameliorate its differences with the rest of the world. A sober look at the nature of this “opposition” and its goals ought to put an end to such foolishness.

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The New York Times devotes considerable space on its front page this morning to a fascinating rundown on the contest to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran. Though this will involve voting and attempts to gain popular support, as Ahmadinejad’s re-election proved in 2009, the Iranian electoral system should not be confused with democracy. Just as the Iranian president is actually subordinate to the grand ayatollah who functions as a permanent supreme leader in terms of governing, the choices and the outcome of the Iranian election are also subject to the dictates of the ruling cleric and his fellow ayatollahs. That doesn’t mean that the infighting within the regime is not significant or that it shouldn’t be monitored closely. The differences between Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are, no doubt, quite real. But they ought not to be interpreted as a sign that the regime is in danger of falling or there is any significant divergence between them and their followers about keeping an Islamist government or maintaining the country’s dangerous nuclear ambitions.

But unfortunately that is probably the conclusion that many of the Times’s liberal readers will jump to after reading the piece since it brands Ahmadinejad and his faction as the “opposition” to the supreme leader. That may be true in the literal sense but, as even the article points out, that is the result of the fact that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei worked together to wipe out any real opposition to Islamist hegemony in 2009 as the United States stood silent. Like the Kremlinologists who spent decades trying to interpret the factions among the rulers of the Soviet Union before its fall, the point of much of the speculation about dissension among the ruling class in Iran is to try to throw cold water on policies intended to pressure the Islamist government. There is nothing wrong with keeping up on which of the tyrants of Tehran is gaining the upper hand on his colleagues. But the problem is that such discussions inevitably tempt Westerners to imagine that outreach to the supposed doves or liberals inside the regime will ameliorate its differences with the rest of the world. A sober look at the nature of this “opposition” and its goals ought to put an end to such foolishness.

Though, as the Times rightly notes, Ahmadinejad has not budged from the offensive positions that have made him an apt symbol of the aggressively anti-Semitic nature of the Iranian government, he has made a few small gestures that are being interpreted as shifts away from the regime’s Islamist fundamentalism. His public embrace of Hugo Chavez’s mother at the Venezuelan strongman’s funeral was seen as an astonishing break from the rigid separation of the sexes advocated by Iran.

The Times also reports that:

Despite his early advocacy of Islam’s role in daily affairs, the president is now positioning himself as a champion of citizens’ rights. …

In speeches, he favors the “nation” and the “people” over the “ummah,” or community of believers, a term preferred by Iran’s clerics, who constantly guard against any revival of pre-Islamic nationalism. He has also said he is ready for talks with the United States, something other Iranian leaders strongly oppose under current circumstances.

But all this probably has a lot more to do with his maneuverings to gain some leverage against Khamenei than any interest in democracy or even in fighting corruption, another theme he has sounded recently.

It is tempting to imagine that this dissension within the ranks of Tehran’s rulers can serve to loosen up a tyrannical regime or to make a deal with Iran over its nuclear program more likely. But it is important to remind those who succumb to such fantasies that this is, after all, the same Ahmadinejad who is the leading proponent of Holocaust denial in the world as well as the same man who has regularly threatened Israel with extinction and treated the country’s nuclear program as a personal cause to be defended at all costs.

The outcome of any struggle between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei cannot produce a more moderate Iran because both are radical Islamists for whom hatred of the West and of Jews is so integral to their worldview that it is inconceivable that either has the capacity to lead the country to a more rational approach. While it is arguable whether division inside Tehran helps increase Western leverage over the regime, the idea that America and its allies have any rooting interest in Ahmadinejad prevailing in this struggle is absurd.

The true danger here is not the likelihood that Khamenei will suppress any opposition so much as it is the possibility that Western governments, and in particular the United States, will be deceived into believing that strengthening Ahmadinejad will make Iran more democratic or less dangerous to its neighbors, Israel and the West. If President Obama is to make good on his repeated pledges never to allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapon, now is the time for greater pressure, not easing up on Iran in the hopes of helping Ahmadinejad’s “opposition.”

In past generations, there have always been those who clung to myths about missed U.S. opportunities to make friends with tyrants like Ho Chi Minh or Fidel Castro when in fact no such options were ever available. Just because some murderous tyrants sometimes quarrel with rivals for power doesn’t mean there is an opening for rapprochement with the West. That’s a lesson that some people never seem to learn.

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