Bush and Hawks Try Preemptive Strike vs. Iran Vote
familiar clutch of hardline U.S. hawks who led the march to war against Iraq have
tried to carry out yet another preemptive strike. But this time it wasn't military.
of Iranians prepared to vote for the successor to President Mohammed Khatami Friday,
the group, helped along by a strong denunciation by Bush himself, mounted what
could only be described as an orchestrated public-relations campaign to discredit
the elections even before they took place.
Iran is ruled by men who suppress liberty at home and spread terror across the
world," Bush declared in a statement issued by the White House Thursday afternoon.
"Power is in the hands of an unelected few who have retained power through
an electoral process that ignores the basic requirements of democracy."
statements, which were echoed by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and
to a somewhat less categorical extent by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,
offered some reassurance to the hawks, particularly some prominent neoconservatives
outside the administration who have pressed their own long-standing campaign for
"regime change" in Teheran with growing intensity.
the same time, however, their own efforts to discredit the election at the eleventh
hour highlight their growing concern that a new president in Iran may actually
be someone with whom, as Margaret Thatcher first observed about incoming Soviet
President Mikhail Gorbachev 20 years ago, the West might actually be able to do
concern rose sharply late last month when State Department officials quietly urged
both the Republican Congressional leadership to hold off action on the Iran Freedom
Support Act that would impose new sanctions on Iran pending ongoing negotiations
between the so-called EU-3 Britain, France, and Germany and Iran
over its nuclear program.
guys want regime change," said one knowledgeable source who asked not to
be identified, "and they're very worried about anything that could divert
from that. They want to ensure that the White House won't get any funny ideas
about making a deal with a new Iranian government."
the hawks' mantra Thursday, on the eve of the balloting, was that the elections
won't make any difference because hardline elements led by the unelected supreme
religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Guardian Council, which did
so much to hobble outgoing President Khatami and the reformists, will continue
running the country regardless of who wins.
normal person familiar with the Islamic republic knows that these are not elections
at all," wrote Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
in an article headlined "When
Is an Election Not an Election?" posted on National Review online
(NRO) Thursday morning.
are a mise en scene, an entertainment, a comic opera staged for our benefit.
The purpose of the charade, pure and simple, is to deter us from supporting the
forces of democratic revolution in Iran."
theme was echoed in a series of events and other columns published Thursday, including
one, by Kenneth Timmerman in NRO (and reprinted Friday by the Washington Times)
Election, Real Threats" in which he predicted that no more than 5 percent
of eligible voters in Tehran would turn out.
appeared in the Washington Times by Nir Boms, vice president of the new
Center for Freedom in the Middle East and previously vice president of the Foundation
for the Defense of Democracies, and Elliott Chodoff entitled "Facing
the Iranian Elections," and a third in the New York Times by AEI
vice president Danielle Pletka, entitled "Not
Our Man in Iran," a reference to the front-runner, former President Ali
Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, whose presumed victory, she wrote, was due to the "machinations
of the mullahs."
Sen. Sam Brownback, a Christian Right leader close to both hardline neoconservatives
and Iranian-American followers of Reza Pahlavi, the ambitious, U.S.-based son
of the former shah, charged in a floor speech that the elections were "bogus,"
while at AEI headquarters across town, a discussion on the elections featured
a presentation by a founder of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mohsen Sazegara
of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who predicted, "No matter
who wins the presidential elections, there will be no real changes in Iran's domestic
or foreign policy."
the certainty with which these views were expressed, many U.S.-based Iran specialists,
while agreeing that powers of Khamenei and the Guardian's Council clearly circumscribed
what an elected president could do, said that the depiction of the election as
a sham was simplistic at best, a deliberate distortion at worst.
to Pletka's assertion that Rafsanjani was chosen by the mullahs, said Gary Sick,
an Iran expert at Columbia University, "Those who are closest to the actual
election process have stated repeatedly that Rafsanjani was seen as dividing the
mullahs and was not-so-subtly opposed in his candidacy by Khamenei."
view was echoed by Abbas Milani and Michael McFaul, directors of the Project on
Iranian Democracy at the conservative Hoover Institution in California, in an
article in Friday's International
Herald Tribune. Rafsanjani and Khamenei, they wrote, "now are at
each other's political throats," signaling "clear division within the
ruling elite" of the kind that could well presage "the beginning of
more, according to Milani and McFaul, Rafsanjani and Mostafa Moin, a reformist
candidate, have both gone further than Khatami "in challenging the legitimacy
of the Islamic Republic and its current leadership" and in advocating improved
relations with the United States.
close reading of the hawks themselves also disclosed serious inconsistencies.
While insisting, for example, that "millions of 'officially cast' ballots
[were] manufactured weeks ago, to ensure the right guy wins and that enough votes
will have been cast," Ledeen confessed that even he didn't know who would
Ledeen had assumed "that Rafsanjani would walk away with it." But since
Khameini overruled the Guardian Council so that Moin ("a nasty pseudo-reformer")
could join the field, he was no longer so sure. Moin "might be more convincing
as he plays that most difficult role," Ledeen went on: "the moderate
face of Islamofascism."
some Iran specialists, such speculation serves only to demonstrate that, as in
the run-up to the war in Iraq, some hardliners are trying to fit the facts into
their preferred policy.
Ledeen has never been to Iran; he speaks no Persian," said Brown University
Professor William Beeman, who observed the campaign in Teheran during the past
week. "He has minimal credibility in assessing the Iranian elections, or
evaluating the political situation there."
is clear that the neocons are desperate to deny any credibility to the Iranian
people in this election by continuing to promulgate the image of helpless Iranians
cowering under tyrannical rule the better to justify some kind of attack
leading to 'regime change,'" said Brown, author of a forthcoming book, The
"Great Satan" vs. the "Mad Mullahs": How the United States
and Iran Demonize Each Other.
Lobe [send him mail] is Inter Press
Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service