Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

“Much Ado About Nothing”

Posted in The Iranian Presidential Elections by Dan on June 15, 2009

June 13, 2009 by Daniel R. DePetris

In the last couple of weeks, there has been a tremendous amount of fascination with the June 12 Iranian presidential election.  Washington, in particular, is perhaps one of the leading participants in the monitoring of the Iranian elections.  Of course, such a statement is understandable to officials within the United States Government:  through a popular ousting of a belligerent and anti-western incumbent (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), a new form of diplomatic dialogue may open up in the near future.  This is certainly what millions and millions of educated and middle-class Iranian citizens are hoping for, all too evident in the millions of Persian voters taking to the streets and advocating for the reformist challenger, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi.  Yet, while a Mousavi victory would be a detrimental blow to the conservative establishments within the Islamic Republic’s clerical regime, American and Israeli policymakers would be wise not too view this scenario as a “saving-grace” for democracy, toleration, and political cooperation in Iran.  The history of Iranian politics only confirms this:  despite past presidents who have labeled themselves within the reformist camp, foreign policy towards the west has remained essentially unchanged.

Michael Singh of Foreign Policy magazine is quite right when saying that “true power on vital issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and relations with the United States remain strictly in the hands of Khamenei.”  In other words, it is the Supreme Leader, not the president of the regime, which determines what course of action is acceptable.  This is precisely why Mr. Ahmadinejad’s consistent hardline stance towards the United States is essentially viewed as mere rhetoric:  the ability to dictate Iranian foreign and defense policy is beyond his immediate grasp.  With the Grand Ayatollah controlling every aspect of decision-making in these realms, it appears that a Mousavi victory on June 12 would bask more in symbolism than a 21st century Iranian revolution.

Even if Mr. Mousavi does defeat President Ahmadinejad by a slim margin, there is no reason to believe that his moderate initiatives towards the west would be successful in the face of the Iranian conservative ranks.  In fact, Mousavi’s tenure may prove as fruitless as the presidency of Mohammad Khatami:  an official that was virtually kept in check by the Islamic religious establishment, as well as the increasingly powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps.  With this being the case, it is rather difficult to imagine that a reformist victory would translate into a willingness to curb the country’s controversial nuclear program.  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has already made it known that an effort to weaken Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities will be met with universal resistance.  Therefore, while the ouster of an Ahmadinejad administration is indeed impressive, we should all keep our optimism in check.  A new age in Iranian politics, one that will open up society and destroy the country’s Islamic tendencies while embracing personal freedoms, is not upon us at this time.  Of course, the death of Khamenei is a whole different story.

-Information from Michael Singh of Foreign Policy contributed to this blog

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