As Iran Elects a Moderate, Trump Cozies up to its Terrorist Enemy Saudi Arabia

On Friday May 19 the Iranian people elected President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate and reformist, in a landslide. 75 percent of the eligible voters cast their votes – which should be compared with 56 percent turnout in the U.S. elections in 2016 – and Rouhani received 57 percent of the total votes. And, this is in a region in which most countries that are allied with the US do not even have any elections.

Once again, Iranian people resisted the call to boycott the elections by the exiled opposition that had supported economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and its allies, as well as military threats made against it by the George W. Bush administration and by Israel. Neoconservative enemies of Iran, such as Elliot Abrams, had hoped that Iranians will elect Rouhani’s main rival, the hardline Ebrahim Raisi, with the hope that it would help lay the groundwork for attacking Iran.

Iranians also rejected Raisi’s promise of economic benefits, if he is elected. He had promised that he would triple the case subsidy that Iranians receive every month from the government, and that his administration would pay generous unemployment benefits to the people until they find jobs.

None of such promises mattered to the Iranian people. Rouhani’s main campaign slogan said it best: "We have chosen our path [to move forward]. We will not return to the past." Iranian people fully recognized that Raisi was supported by Iran’s "deep state" – the secret and semi-secret networks of security, military and intelligence officers, backed by reactionary hardline clerics – as well as by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Rouhani’s predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power by strong support of the "deep state" and Khamenei, and the Iranian people experienced firsthand the result: incredible corruption, repression, particularly after the fraudulent elections of 2009, and a confrontational foreign policy and rhetoric against Israel that took Iran to the United Nations Security Council, where six resolutions were approved against the nation.

But, this was not the only victory by the moderates and reformists. Elections for city councils throughout Iran were also held simultaneously with the presidential elections, and the reformists and moderates scored impressive victories. In particular, the people voted overwhelmingly for the list of reformist candidates in Iran’s three major cities: Tehran, the historic city of Isfahan in central Iran that has been recognized by the United Nations’ UNESCO as a world cultural heritage, and the holy city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran, Raisi’s hometown where he exerted considerable influence. In addition, a very large number of woman candidates were elected all over al the country. In one province alone, Sistan and Baluchistan in southeast Iran on the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, at least 415 women were elected to the city councils. Moreover, ethnic minorities, which the West has tried to exploit against the central government by stirring troubles there, also voted in large numbers. In Kurdistan, for example, which is on the border with Iraq and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan, 60 percent of the people cast their votes, of which Rouhani received close to 75 percent.

Iranian people voted for Rouhani because they support his moderate foreign policy that has kept Iran isolated from any attack by the Sunni terrorist groups, his rapprochement with the European Union, and his efforts for lessening tension with the United States. In addition, the year before Rouhani was elected in 2013, Iran’s economy had contracted by close to six percent, and the official inflation was running above 40 percent, with many believing that it was actually around 60 percent. Rouhani stabilized the economy and reduced the inflation to below 7 percent. Iran’s economy is expanding, and it is predicted that it will grow by more than 6 percent in 2017. The number of foreign tourists visiting Iran has tripled over the past 4 years, and foreign investment has begun flowing toward Iran.

And, perhaps most importantly, Iranian people voted for Rouhani despite the fact that the Trump administration has been undermining the nuclear agreement between Iran and P5+1. Although Iran has abided by all of its obligation under the agreement, significant problems still exist with lifting of the sanctions that have disappointed many Iranians. Note also that Iran is one of the few countries in the world where moderation, anti-populism, and anti-chauvinistic nationalism produce a landslide election victory.

How did the Trump administration react to Rouhani’s victory? It completely ignored Rouhani’s landslide victory, because it does not fit its agenda. Instead, the day after Iran’s elections, in a speech in Saudi Arabia, where there are no meaningful elections; women cannot even drive; Shiites suffer discriminations; the state-supported Wahhabism is the ideological backbone of all the Sunni terrorist organizations around the world, and where its regime is committing war crimes in Yemen on a daily basis, Trump targeted Iran, saying,

But no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three – safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment. It is a regime that is responsible for so much instability in the region. I am speaking of course of Iran.

From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror. It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.

Among Iran’s most tragic and destabilizing interventions have been in Syria. Bolstered by Iran, Assad has committed unspeakable crimes, and the United States has taken firm action in response to the use of banned chemical weapons by the Assad Regime – launching 59 tomahawk missiles at the Syrian air base from where that murderous attack originated.

Responsible nations must work together to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria, eradicate ISIS, and restore stability to the region. The Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims are its own people. Iran has a rich history and culture, but the people of Iran have endured hardship and despair under their leaders’ reckless pursuit of conflict and terror.

Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.

Aside from the fact that Iranians do not need Trump’s crocodile tears for them, and that he was uttering these words in the presence of some of the worst reactionary dictators of the region that do not even hold elections, most of what trump said is sheer nonsense. Without Iran’s help, Iraq’s Capital Baghdad would have fallen to Daesh [also known as the ISIS] in June 2014. The war in Syria has been imposed on the Syrian people by the terrorist groups that are supported by Saudi Arabia and its allies, namely, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Jordan, as acknowledged even by Joe Biden at Harvard University in October 2014. Israel supports the Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda Syrian branch, by treating their wounded fighters in Israel and returning them to the fields.

The author is opposed to any intervention by any foreign power in the internal affairs of any other nation. Thus, no country, including Iran, should intervene in Syria. But, we must keep in mind that whereas the West, Saudi Arabia, and their allies have intervened there illegally and against international laws, Iran’s intervention is based on the internationally recognized mutual defense treaty between the two nations signed in 2005. Without Iran’s [and Russia’s] help Syria would be ruled now by some of the worst terrorist groups in the world that have been supported by the fascist Saudi regime. There is little doubt that President Bashar al-Assad and his army have committed atrocities and possibly war crimes, which in due time must be investigated, but they are no worse than the crimes committed by the US forces in Iraq, both in the past and in the present during the operation for liberating Mosul where hundreds of civilians have been killed by US bombing, and Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen that are helped by the United States.

Perhaps, even more disgusting that his attack on Iran was Trump’s forgetting his own words about Saudi Arabia. This is the same man who during his campaign last year told us that the Saudis were "mouth pieces, bullies, cowards," who were "paying ISIS." In addition to milking the Saudis to the tune of over $400 billion in arms sales that will be used to kill the people of Yemen and other Muslims in the region, Trump received the "Order of King Abdulaziz." Past recipients of the Order include Saddam Hussein, Egypt’s military dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Bashar al-Assad whom the Saudis have been trying to topple, and George W. Bush whose illegal and criminal invasion of Iraq set the Middle East on its current path of destruction of bloodshed, with no end in sight.

To be sure, Iran’s elections are neither democratic nor fair, because the hardliners who control vast national resources use them to their own advantage. But, these elections are extremely competitive, meaningful and unpredictable. To be sure, Iran’s "deep state" and its allies have committed numerous crimes since the 1979 Revolution, but Iran’s civil society has also been growing and gathering strength. Whereas Ayatollah Khamenei and the "deep state" could impose Ahmadinejad on Iran for a second term in 2009, they also paid a heavy price for it, to the extent that they no longer dare to do it again, and have to go along with people’s votes. There is nothing like this in the entire Muslim part of the Middle East.

Mocking Trump’s speech, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that, "Iran – fresh from real elections – attacked by @POTUS [President of the United States] in that bastion of democracy and moderation [Saudi Arabia]. Foreign policy or simply milking KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] of $480B [that Trump signed with Saudi Arabia to sell that country advanced weapons]?" And, "We derive stability not from “coalitions” [of Arab states that are bombing Yemen], but from our people, who – unlike many – do vote. Iranians must be respected & are ready to engage [with the United States]." Indeed!

Read more by Muhammad Sahimi

Author: Muhammad Sahimi

Muhammad Sahimi, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and the NIOC Chair in Petroleum Engineering at the University of Southern California, is co-founder and editor of the website, Iran News & Middle East Reports.