October 20, 2004

Iranians for Bush?

Interesting news. Hassan Rowhani, head of the Security Council in Iran, has publicly endorsed President Bush. Or has he? AFP claims that Rowhani said "it makes no difference." AFP's version jibes better with everything I know about Iran -- and this wouldn't be the first time Iranian remarks were misinterpreted -- but hey let's play the game. Let's pretend that Rowhani really has endorsed Bush, and see what that would mean.

Rowhani, as we know, represents Khameini and the hardliners on the council, though he is generally considered a 'pragmatic conservative'. What does that mean? It means he couldn't care less about democracy (he once suggested the death penalty for student protestors), but he favors some sort of accommodation with the West. Supposedly. On the other hand, Rowhani has close ties with one Ahmed Chalabi, so he probably has quite a bit experience jerking the United States around. Rowhani has promised a million times over to secure Iran's borders, and of course he's done no such thing. So his idea of engagement might not be our idea of engagement.

Now here's where things get interesting. Rowhani was the one who rejected John Kerry's offer of a "grand bargain" over Tehran's nukes. It was Hossein Mousavian, another foreign-policy bigwig on the Council and Iran's delegate to the IAEA, who came out and said that Iran would at least consider Kerry's offer. So even though Mousavian has already swatted down all sorts of European-backed deals, he's hinted that he'd play ball with the United States, potentially. That, I think, is significant. It means there is probably some nontrivial faction on the security council interested in real dialogue with the U.S. Rowhani, meanwhile, who knows perfectly well that Bush will never bargain with Tehran, and also knows that he can play Bush for a fool, has said he'd favor a Republican re-election. That too is significant, because it would mean there is some nontrivial faction on the council that thinks (with good reason) it can jerk the United States around without fear of retaliation.

Now that makes for good intrigue! Too bad the AFP is probably right and Rowhani was simply misquoted.

Update: Matthew Yglesias makes a similar point, only better. I should note, though, that there are probably three main factions operating in Tehran: 1) Accomodationists like Khatami who want to move closer to the West because that's where the future of Iran lies; 2) hardliners who don't trust the United States and would prefer to develop nukes and manipulate the White House, though they'd probably seek engagement if it was in their best security interests; and 3) the neoconservative lunatics who want to ban foreign investment, end all economic reform, bolster the Islamic regime, and actively confront the United States.

If we want to talk about Tehran's election interests (dubious, I know), then: The neoconservatives, I imagine, would love Bush because his aggressive posturing and "regime change" rhetoric strengthens their hand at home. Hardliners like Mousaviani, meanwhile, would probably prefer Bush because they can outmaneuver him as they've done for the last four years, but they'd also be amenable to a Kerry engagement policy, if done right. The key, of course, is to figure out who's who. If Iran's Security Council is being run by a bunch of neoconservatives we're in big trouble.
-- Brad Plumer 1:27 AM || ||