When Barack Obama, as a candidate, said that he would be prepared to hold talks without preconitions with the Iranian government, his critics on the right were quick to jump on him. Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad, the Iranian President, is an obvious lunatic; how could you possibly hold dicussions with him? The response from the Obama camp is that the President of Iran isn’t the Iranian government; he doesn’t even control the armed forces. The Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i, has most of the clout; he’s a hard-liner, of course, but not (for example) a Holocaust denier.
The neocons and their friends just put their fingers in their ears and kept chanting “Ahmadi-nejad! Ahmadi-nejad! Ahmadi-nejad!”
Well, now it looks quite possible that Ahmadi-nejad will be not just defeated, but crushed, in his bid for re-election. (The Ahmadi-nejad contract is now 22 cents bid on Intrade; it traded at 80 cents two weeks ago, and was at 60 cents when Obama spoke in Cairo.)
This is great news for the U.S. and the world, but terrible news for the neo-cons and Bibi Netanyahu. What will they do without their prized bogey-man? Worse, what if someone noticed that victory for the less anti-American of the candidates constituted a vindication of Obama’s strategy of reducing tensions in order to help moderate forces within Islam prevail over their extremist competition?
So, with truly Orwellian discipline, the war hawks (e.g., Elliot Abrams) have now picked up precisely the point they were so eager to ignore: the primary power in Iran lies with the Supreme Leader, not with the President. That’s just as true now as it was six months ago. But Ahmadinejad’s defeat, if it happens, will still be something to celebrate, for all of us who prefer peace to war. And any fair-minded observer would have to conclude that Obama’s Cairo speech, which was, among other things, a move in the game of Iranian politics — notably his denunciation of Holocaust denial — seems to have been a successful move, and that Obama’s presence and policies are helping the good guys in bad places win elections.
Second update Looks as if most of the voters went for Moussawi but Ahmadi-nejad won the election because his partisans got to do the counting. (No, Justice Scalia wasn’t involved.) Certainly bad news, unless the reactionaries have so over-reached as to discredit themselves, and the regime.