Iran: Yes, Stealing an Election and Imposing Ahmadinejad Is Rather Significant
Many Western analysts and journalists are treating the stolen election in Iran as something of no international significance. After all, they say, it is only an internal matter. Why should it affect Western attempts to engage with the Islamist regime?
If we hadn't been previously conditioned by so many crazy ways to view Middle East politics this alone would be a shocker. True, in international affairs one has to deal with many dictatorships and national interests sometimes require putting aside one's repugnance at repression.
(Though, by the way, are we now going to see efforts at academic boycotts and nonstop human rights' denunciations of Iran in the manner apparently reserved for democratic Israel?).
Let me put it this way. I certainly expected Ahmadinjad to win but figured the regime would play out the game. He'd either genuinely gain victory in the second round or they'd change just enough votes to ensure his victory. What no one expected is that the regime would tear up the whole process like this. Their brazen way of doing so--if you don't like it you can go to hell, we're going to do whatever we want, and we don't care what anyone thinks--signals to me that this ruling group is even more risk-taking and irresponsible than it previously appeared.
This is the key point: the problem with Iran's regime isn't just that it is a dictatorship, it's that it is such an extremist, aggressive dictatorship.
The only logical explanation for why the regime did this is that Ahmadinejad's opponents got so many votes that it frightened the regime. It also shows that the regime is wedded to Ahmadinejad and his approach.
Is a regime that just committed itself irrevocably to the most extreme faction, most radical ideology, and most repressive control over the country going to compromise with the West on nuclear weapons or anything else?
Of course not, like Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1960s, Syria's rulers in the 1970s, and Iraq's Saddam Hussein in the 1980s (and many examples elsewhere in the world) it is going to use foreign adventurism and mobilizing hatred against the West and Israel to consolidate its hold on the country.
Remember all those people who've said that Iran can be entrusted with nuclear weapons because the regime was so cautious in practice and its rhetoric should be disregarded?
And there's more. It isn't just a stolen election but the imposition by the ruling group of the most extreme, adventurist, nuclear-weapon waving, Holocaust-denying candidate. I would have been pleased if either of the two less radical candidates had won, not because they are super-moderate but that would have signalled a government less likely to go (or blunder) into war or use nuclear weapons.
Again, though, the significance of events in Tehran is the triumph of both the most extreme elements of the regime and of the advocate of the most far-out policy. Can any sane person think this group--intoxicated in the belief they are winning victories everywhere and will win more in future--is going to compromise with America and Europe?
Remember, too, before taking this step, the regime's leaders calculated they had nothing to lose internationally. What could that mean except that they hadn't planned on making nice with the West in the first place and also that they don't take Western pressure--at a time when there's so much talk of engagement, apology, and appeasement in the air--as a serious threat?
So now are we going to see an all-out effort to conciliate with the Islamist regime which has just signalled its intentions in the clearest possible terms? For goodness sake, is there truly no limit?
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org. His blog, Rubin Reports is at http://rubinreports.blogspot.com/