August 11, 2005

Post-Election Iran

In Strategic Insights this month, Mark Gasiorowski does a retrospect on the Iranian election and notes, contrary to fears that Iran is sliding down the path towards fascism, that "Ahmadinejad is likely to be a weak president." He seems to have very little experience in politics, after all, and "there is not a large constituency for the hard-line measures many observers fear he will pursue." (Ahmedinejad's victory seemed to be the result of a conservative backlash against social liberalism, along with anger over the growing gap between Iran's rich and poor—Thomas Frank's book What's the Matter with Khuzestan? was essential reading for the campaign.)

So the real winner in all this may be Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right, whose main rivals—both Rafsanjani and the reformist movement—have now been swept aside, and the only person in any position to oppose him, Ahmedinejad, is, for all intents and purposes, a naïve bumpkin with little idea of how to navigate the tricky back-corridors of Iranian politics. (And they are tricky.) One could also note that this whole state of affairs, meanwhile, makes a Ukrainian-style revolution in Iran less likely, rather than more, since Khamenei likely feels emboldened and more willing to crack down on any mass political movement—even if the United States did try to stir up trouble. So Khamenei will probably green-light a few modest economic reforms, and avoid alienating the young folks in Tehran by not cracking down too hard on social liberalism, but otherwise, the theocrats aren't going anyhere.

Meanwhile, if Gasiorowski's right and Khamenei's really calling the shots here, this might mean that Iran's more willing to deal with the United States on the foreign policy front than commonly thought—Khamenei may be a nasty fellow, but many, including Gasiorowski, don't think he's wholly irrational: "It seems likely that he will try to avoid a confrontation with the United States." Then again, not everyone shares this view: Michael Ledeen, for instance, has tried to trace the al-Sadr uprising in Iraq back to Khamenei himself; there's also the question of whether the Supreme Leader has any control over, say, the elements of the Revolutionary Guard that's currently harboring al-Qaeda; or if he just prefers to look like he has no control over those elements, in order to maintain plausible deniability. Interesting times...
-- Brad Plumer 5:39 PM || ||