Was it Daniel Pipes’ endorsement of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that put the Holocaust-denying hard-liner over the top in Iran’s recent presidential "election"? Or was it the massive – and fairly obvious – fraud committed by the Ahmadinejad camp?
Joking aside, at least for the moment, one has to wonder: what else did anybody expect? Iranian elections have hardly been models of democratic governance in the past. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, prefigured the probable upshot of all this when he announced that a victory for leading opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi would amount to a repudiation of him personally – and the crackdown we are witnessing could only have come about as a direct result of Khamenei’s order.
The U.S. government – or, at least, one branch of it – didn’t help matters much. Their fast-tracking of draconian new sanctions on Iran right before Iranians went to the polls could only have helped Ahmadinejad. How’s that for timing?
In any case, the Mousavi challenge was a frontal assault on the legitimacy of the current regime, and they have responded just as tyrannical elites have always responded, with deadly force and brazen fraud.
Ahmadinejad has led his country into an economic dead end, with record unemployment, gas shortages, and a high inflation rate. That, combined with U.S. President Barack Obama’s remarkable outreach to the Iranians – a video message of friendship, an offer to negotiate with Iranian leaders without preconditions, and an unprecedented acknowledgment of the U.S. government’s role in overthrowing Mohammed Mossadegh’s democratically elected government in 1953 – would have sounded the death knell of the current gang if the election had been allowed to proceed unobstructed. As it was, the hard-liners sealed off Iran from the rest of the world as Mousavi’s overwhelming victory became apparent, placed the candidate under house arrest (or so it seems from numerous unconfirmed news reports), shut down the Internet, and unleashed their "Revolutionary Guards" on student-led protest demonstrations.
The swiftness of the hard-liner response, however, can be deceiving. Apparently, there was confusion in the Ahmadinejad camp as Mousavi’s victory loomed large. We are getting reports that the authorities informed Mousavi of his impending election victory before the polls had even closed, and he was advised to "moderate" his victory speech for fear of provoking a violent response from Ahmadinejad’s supporters, many of whom are members of the "revolutionary" militias. The reformist newspapers, too, were told they were not allowed to use the word "victory" in reference to Mousavi when reporting election results – but at least they were allowed to report it. Or so they thought.
Shortly afterward, however, these same newspapers were taken over by armed assailants, Mousavi’s election headquarters were surrounded by military forces under the hard-liners’ command, and the regime’s thugs were called out into the streets – where they met Mousavi’s mostly youthful supporters in bloody clashes throughout the country.
Like Juan Cole, I will readily admit that I may be wrong about the veracity of the hard-liner coup narrative, and I may very well have fallen for what some are calling the "North Tehran Fallacy" – the idea that Western reporters were lured into believing that Mousavi was the winner because they are all based in a relatively affluent and Westernized part of the Iranian capital. (Cole, by the way, denies the validity of the North Tehran thesis, though it seems plausible to me.) Yet that really has no relevance to the main point of this column, which is this: America has no business intervening in Iran’s internal affairs, including its presidential election. Period.
To do so would play right into the hands of Iran’s hard-liners – and their neoconservative cheerleaders (both overt and covert) in this country. Whatever support the kooky Ahmadinejad had managed to garner – according to leaked and unconfirmed reports, about 30 percent of the total – was due almost entirely to external factors, principally the U.S.-led campaign to strangle the Iranian economy and rile up ethnic and religious minorities. This, in turn, has redounded to the hard-liners’ benefit, as anti-Americanism – long a staple of Iranian politics – has reached record levels throughout the region.
So far, the Obama administration has kept its collective mouth shut pretty tight – except, of course, for Joe Biden – and that’s a good thing. What isn’t so good is that the White House will almost surely be forced to pronounce some sort of verdict or judgment on the apparently fraudulent election results. Criticism, however mild, coming from Washington, will surely be used by Ahmadinejad & Co. as a pretext to declare a state of "emergency" and engineer a total crackdown. And the possibility of a dramatic showdown between the two Iranian camps is increasing by the moment: Mousavi is reportedly calling for his followers to take to the streets in protest – although there is some fear that this may be a trap set by the regime – and what follows may very well turn out to be an Iranian replay of what happened in China’s Tiananmen Square, at least as far as the rest of the world sees it.
What this means, in terms of U.S. foreign policy, and the building "crisis" around U.S.-Iranian relations, is that the prospects for a negotiated settlement of the outstanding issues between the two countries have darkened considerably. Yes, I know Obama has declared his intention to soldier on in the "outreach" effort, but this will become increasingly untenable – and make it fairly easy for him to backtrack – as the authority and legitimacy of the Iranian government continues to deteriorate, as it will.
And we should not forget that, in spite of public assurances from the U.S. president that the administration wants peace, is prepared to negotiate, and that it’s time for "a new beginning," the Americans continue their covert action operations directed at Tehran – as recent bombings and other disturbances in the eastern non-Persian provinces have shown. Is the U.S. involved in the current street fighting in Tehran and other major cities? I wouldn’t be at all surprised to have this suspicion confirmed in coming days. After all, in 2007 Congress appropriated $400 million to destabilize the Iranian regime, and who’s to say this program isn’t bearing fruit?
U.S. military leaders are vehemently opposed to launching yet another war in the Middle East, and their stubborn resistance to the idea – floated by Bush’s neocon camarilla in the latter days of the Decider’s reign – scotched the War Party’s attempts to make sure Obama inherited a Middle East aflame. Yet their efforts will have reached beyond the previous administration’s grave – and succeeded in dragging Obama down with them into hell – if events in Iran provoke an ill-considered response from the U.S.
Whenever there are election "irregularities" anywhere outside the U.S., American government officials have a bad habit of getting up on their high horses and lecturing the rest of the world on how best to conduct their own internal affairs. Never mind that the U.S. itself has only two officially recognized political parties, both of which are subsidized with tax dollars, and that any potential rivals must jump through a number of hoops to even get on the ballot. We’re a legend in our own minds – the world’s greatest "democracy" – and anyone who questions this dubious claim is immediately charged with "anti-Americanism."
Yet even if that were not the case – even if our democratic procedures were flawless – that still wouldn’t give the U.S. government any standing to pass judgment, because how Iran conducts its presidential elections is not a legitimate concern of the U.S. government. The idea that the occupant of the Oval Office must pass moral judgment on all events, including other countries’ elections, is a byproduct of America’s imperial pretensions and delusions of "world leadership."
The Israel lobby, which has been pushing for a U.S. confrontation with Iran, is revving up its engines even now to push harder for increased sanctions and other provocative moves by the U.S. Obama, I fear, will prove unable to resist all that pressure, though I’d love to be proven wrong.