Before the Iranian election, I didn’t think much would come about, that is ‘change’. Ayatollah Khameinei and his self appointed Guardian Council hand pick the candidates knowing that they will be the ones in charge no matter what. If this is the case, than maybe Ahmadinejad or Mir-Hossein Mousavi may have different temperaments and rhetoric, but the policies they would follow, or be forced to follow, would pretty much be the same. This feeling continued after Ahmadinejad was declared the winner and protests started to occur. However, the ongoing protests and outward cries of injustice by Mousavi have started to erode this pliant feeling of mine that no change is on the horizon. It is difficult to see a picture like this and not feel that things are different in Tehran.
These recent events are starting to make it look that the Ayatollahs may not have the power we thought they did. Why is Mousavi able to speak out and rile up the populace? Why would they pick someone who may even have a chance of causing these problems for their theocratic system and rule? Ayatollah Khameinei’s statement that certain election results will be looked into contradicts his earlier declaration that Ahmadinejad won by a landslide. Khameinei seems to be bowing to democratic political pressure to show that the election was legitimate. This change of policy is a serious sign that Khameinei fears that these protests may get out of hand unless something is done, but by doing such a move he opens the regime up to further inquiry and questioning. I mean Ahmadinejad reportedly won by nearly 20%, how could that possibly be mistaken? Autocrats are always careful not to open the political/social door, for they know not what will be let in or let out, and it appears the Islamic Republic is starting to creak that door open right now.
That being said, I still feel pessimistically about how this will turn out. It is true that though there are thousands upset with the election results, mainly in Tehran and other urban areas, there are also millions of other Iranian citizens who are either supportive or compliant to the election results. As Robert Baer asserts, though the election was probably rigged, Ahmadinejad did likely garner the most votes. In all likelihood, things will settle down and Ahmadinejad will remain president, though he will not have the political capital afforded most reelected leaders.
Regarding President Obama and his administration’s reaction so far, I would say they are putting forth their strongest strand of realist policy and thinking. Though there has been statements of ‘concern’ the administration has made it clear that they are taking a ‘hands off’ approach to this conflict. In other words, it is Iran’s election and the US favors no particular outcome. Not only does this follow the realist line that sovereignty and respect for other state’s internal workings trump the spread of democracy, but one can argue that Obama just wants some one to negotiate with and it really doesn’t matter whether it be Ahmadinejad, Mousavi, Khameinei, or a Persian Thomas Jefferson. In fact, one could argue that Ahmadinejad would be easier to negotiate with than Mousavi, as we know where Ahmadinejad stands on the nuclear situation, and though Mousavi in all likelihood would carry out the same policy, his ‘reform’ and ‘softer’ image would make it very difficult to get all on aboard when the situation becomes inevitably tense and serious moves (aka heavy sanctions or military action) may need to be taken. It appears that Obama seeks a negotiating partner not a democratic spring in Iran, though of course I believe he would welcome such an occurrence, I just don’t think he’s A. expecting it, B. thinks it will make the future negotiating easier. Remember, Obama went out of his way to acknowledge the Islamic Republic leadership in his television address to the country, becoming the first US administration to officially speak of or to the Regime. By doing this, he is taking a gambit that by only dealing with the government in power can negotiations and rapprochement have a chance at succeeding. The administration obviously did not think the Regime would be challenged during the upcoming election, but by Obama’s reserved reaction, it appears the administration is sticking with the game plan.
(Photo: New York Times)