Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was already the laughingstock of much of the world with his farcical denial of the Holocaust and his statements urging that Israel disappear from history. His domestic policies were basically voodoo economics enabled by a big assist from a glut of petro-dollars based on astronomically high oil prices.
But at least Ahmadinejad could claim one thing, he was more or less democratically elected president. He can no longer even make this claim. In an election so patently fraudulent it would put Richard Daley and Boss Tweed to shame, the national election commission announced barely two hours after polls closed not only who the winner was, but by what percentage he won. And when they announced the final results earlier today the margin of victory was virtually the same as it had been two hours after polls closed. How’s that for neat and tidy?
If we can believe government claims, the reformist candidate, Hossein Moussavi, who had hosted massive election rallies for days leading up to the election, and who was enjoying a terrific spike in popularity due to Ahamdinejad’s hysterical performance in television debates, sputtered to barely 34% of the vote. Ahmadinejad won even in his opponent’s hometowns for Pete’s sake! Here is what one Iranian wrote on the FiveThirtyEight website (as reported in the Lede) about this:
How could it have been possible for Moussavi to lose Tabriz (his hometown) when he is from Iranian Azerbaijan and Ahmadinejad has abysmal approval ratings amongst Turkic speaking Iranians?
It simply beggars belief.
I was prepared to write a post that held out hope that Iran might experience a People Power type upsurge a la the Philippines. But the Times coverage indicates that the Grand Ayatollah has released a statement calling the election a fait accompli. Apparently, within the current Iranian system this is like our Supreme Court declaring George Bush the victor in 2000. There is simply no recourse and no appeal.
A Daily Kos blogger, quoting an Iranian Farsi-language blog reports that Moussavi has been placed under house arrest (the site seems to be blocked as of this writing) and Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and implacable foe of Ahmadinejad, has resigned his seat on the Expediency Council, which validates presidential elections. An Iranian-American blog features this plaintive call for help from a Moussavi supporter in Teheran:
“I am in Tehran. Its 3:40 in the morning. I’ve connected with you [by hacking past the government filter]. It’s a big mess here. People are yelling from their houses – ‘death to the dictator.’ They are setting up a military government. No one dares to go out. No one has seen Mousavi today. Rumor has it that they have arrested him.
What next? We simply do not know what will happen in Iran. Perhaps Moussavi will fight. Perhaps a coherent opposition will rise up to combat this outrage. Gary Sick presents these two possibilities:
The Iranian opposition, which includes some very powerful individuals and institutions, has an agonizing decision to make. If they are intimidated and silenced by the show of force (as they have been in the past), they will lose all credibility in the future with even their most devoted followers. But if they choose to confront their ruthless colleagues forcefully, not only is it likely to be messy but it could risk running out of control and potentially bring down the entire existing power structure, of which they are participants and beneficiaries.
If Ahmadinejad’s “victory” stands, the hardliners have just given the nation’s enemies precisely what they wanted: a sham Ahmadinejad victory offers them a tool with which to beat Iran on the world stage.
Israel has to be delighted with this outcome. One of the techniques of suppression which it learned from imperial Britain is divide and conquer. But Israel has taken things one step better by devising ways to demoralize and defang its opponents. A bitter, divided Iran led by a deranged authoritarian ruler who retained power through a virtual coup d’etat couldn’t fit Israel’s desired scenario better.
But not many other nations will be so delighted to dance on the grave of Iranian democracy. The Obama administration has to be incredibly disheartened especially after the tremendous strides made in the Arab world via his Cairo speech. Clearly, one of the next steps on Obama’s agenda would’ve been a serious appeal for negotiations with the Iranian regime. Now, such negotiations are either impossible or will be nothing but a joke.
This in turn may mean that Obama’s pressure on Israel to end settlements and negotiate toward creating an independent Palestinian state will be harder to sustain. Since such pressure was predicated on a sort of grand bargain that included resolving the Iranian nuclear stalemate in return for a Palestinian state, this scenario begins to seem far-fetched. It will mean that Obama will quickly have to delink the two if there is ever to be progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track.
But one thing Obama and Congressional leaders MUST DO: they must back off the draconian legislative proposals to tighten the screws on Iran unless it abandons nuclear research. Such U.S. legislation, strongly backed by Israel and her Congressional allies, will serve no purpose but to legitimate the illegitimate in the eyes of Iranians themselves.
We must let Iranians sort out this mess. To intervene as the neocons and their friends in Israeli intelligence and the diplomatic corps would have us do through punishing Iran in Congress, is simply nuts. If we want to get rid of Ahmadinejad or Iranian nukes, this will not be the way to do it. This will be the way to rouse Iran against us (and Israel) for the next generation.
This is apparently the path that Bibi Netanyahu has chosen for himself and Israel. He wants war with Iran. He plans to take another step down that path tomorrow when he speaks to the Israeli people about his “vision” (such as it is) for peace with the Palestinian people. Well, at least that was supposed to be his agenda until he started reading the same headlines we’re reading. Then the theme of the speech quickly pivoted to Iran.
Would I be wrong if I suspected that Iran is the gift that keeps on giving as far as Israeli rightists are concerned? Got a problem with an American president kicking you in the shins over restless Palestinian natives? What better way to change the subject than to shrei to the world about the “Iranian menace?” What better way to change the channel as far as Israelis themselves are concerned? When there appears to be an Iranian bogeyman over the horizon holding a nuke aloft and threatening to rain it down on you, who has time to worry about Palestinians? After all, what did they ever do for us (Israelis, that is)?