The administration of United States President Barack Obama, the State Department and Dennis Ross, their “special advisor” to the Gulf and Southwest Asia, the Pentagon, the industrial-military complex, assorted Likudniks and their enablers, the next Bibi-bombs-Iran government in Israel, everybody is taking note.
With the official announcement this week that former president Mohammad Khatami, who served from 1997 to 2005, has dropped from the Iranian presidential elections, it seems increasingly likely that Obama’s alleged “unclenched fist” Iran policy will have to deal with – yes – the “new Hitler” (copyright The Israel lobby) Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
Khatami, former reformist icon, the man who launched the United Nations-approved “dialogue of civilizations” in contrast to the paranoid Huntingtonian “clash”, had entered the race on February 9. Not only in Iran, chancelleries all over the world were betting, some of them actually praying, he might stand a very good chance of beating Ahmadinejad on June 12.
But then another reformist, Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister from 1981 to 1989 during the Iran-Iraq war, presented his own candidacy only a few days ago, on March 9. The version doing the rounds in Tehran is that Khatami decided to back down and support Mousavi, so the reformist bloc wouldn’t be split like in 2005, when it lost the election.
It’s crucial to remember that Mousavi was, in fact, the favorite reformist candidate in the 1997 elections. Then he backed down. Khatami replaced him – and won handsomely.
To say that the progressive press in Tehran is dejected with this bombshell would be an understatement. The Sedaye-e Edalat daily reminds everyone how Khatami had asked Mousavi in January if he wanted to run. Mousavi said nothing. Khatami then entered the race – more or less against this will. As the paper puts it, “What a surprise now to see Mousavi declare five weeks later that he would enter the presidential battle!”
The Hammihan daily has already blasted Mousavi’s “lack of morality” – which is bound to alienate many a reformist. And to top it all, the reformist bloc remains split, because former Majlis (parliament) president Mehdi Karoubi, a moderate, is still in the race.
Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a close adviser to Khatami, although extolling his decision “from a moral point of view” (considering the other two reformists would not back down), recalls one of Khatami’s first, triumphal campaign rallies, in Shiraz, to stress how he was the only real winner among reformists. It will be very, very hard for Mousavi and Karoubi to captivate all the reformist masses, as they lack Khatami’s unequivocal appeal, especially to women and the youth.
Bridging the gulf
The road to victory now seems clear to Ahmadinejad. Will he capture only the “fundamentalist” vote? It’s not that simple. The ultra-conservatives control both the presidency and the Majlis. But this has not assured coherent policies. Both the executive and the legislative branches spent fortunes at random when oil was at its peak, then were constrained to save; none of it brought substantial improvement to ordinary Iranians’ lives.
The performance of some of Ahmadinejad’s ministers – old Pasdaran (Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps) pals actually – has been appalling. He seriously annoyed the elders who run the show behind the shadows – ie powerful ayatollahs in Qom – because he never consulted them on some key policies. But he felt he did not need them. He spends a lot of time touring the provinces – he’s just received a raucous welcome in Iranian Kurdistan – where he remains extremely popular and in touch with the masses.
This does not mean that Ahmadinejad eschews clever power play. He has just launched a super charm offensive to (re)captivate the ayatollahs in Qom and to throw off balance a man who could actually win an election against him, the 47-year-old conservative, former national police chief and current mayor of Tehran, Mohammed Ghalibaf.
Ghalibaf is no extreme right-winger – on the contrary, his current slogan is “restoring tranquility”. What the Ahmadinejad camp is betting on is to offer him enough carrots so he won’t run now – and will try his chances only in 2013. The word in Tehran is that an Ahmadinejad second term would embody a solid alliance of all the right wing and the ultra-conservative and fundamentalist factions.
This Persian chessboard is just in its initial moves. Still, it does look bleak for reformists. Fists – in Washington and Tehran – may eventually unclench. But Hillary Clinton’s State Department is not making things easier. The State Department could not even name the Persian Gulf correctly when Dennis Ross – a crypto-Zionist who by the way knows zilch about Southwest Asia – was appointed “Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for The Gulf and Southwest Asia”.
What Gulf? Mexico? Aqaba? Aden? Tonkin? The name is Persian Gulf – since at least 330 BC, when the Greeks coined it. And the “new Hitler” seems likely to keep presiding over the most powerful country that borders it in Southwest Asia. Bibi Netanyahu in Israel and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi, who was in Washington this week, are already polishing their bombs.