Why I’m rooting for Moussavi

No, he’s not one of us. But one of us wouldn’t be a player in Iranian politics. Moussavi represents a funamental challenge to the current tyranny. If he wins, he wins with the support of all those marchers-in-the street, who on average are much more anti-clerical than he is. Conditions in Iran, and Iran’s relations with the world, will be better if Moussavi and Rafsanjani pull off their coup than if Khamene’i and Ahmad-nejad manage to cling to power.

Yes, Rafsanjani is a crook.

Yes, Moussavi said and did some terrible things, back in the day.

Yes, they were both accomplices of Khomeini, not just in overthrowing the Shah but in setting up the Islamist tyranny.

No, neither of them is going to have a good word to say for Israel (though Moussavi might say something nice about the United States).

Of course that’s all true. And so what?

No one who said and did the sort of things that you and I, dear reader, would approve of could be a political player in today’s Iran.

The survival of an unpopular ruling elite depends on a certain amount of cohesion among its leaders. (And yes, we know the regime to be unpopular. Forget the details of how this election was stolen: the mullahs already knew they couldn’t win free elections, which is why they have the Guardian Council to vet the candidates.)

The members of a tyrannical ruling group may hate and fear one another and plot against one another, but they must all draw the line at actions that threaten the tyranny itself. Rafsanjani and Moussavi have crossed that line, and in doing so they have seriously damaged the credibility of the regime. If they win, they win with the support of all those marchers in the street, who are, on average, much more hostile to clerical rule than are Rafsanjani and Moussavi.

The result won’t be a liberal republic, but it will be much more liberal (about private life) than anything Iran has had since 1979 and much more republican (about political life) than anything Iran has had since the overthrow of Mossadeq. It won’t be friendly to the United States or Israel, but it will be much less bellicose than Khamene’i and Ahmadi-nejad have been, and much less bellicose than they will be now, after using anti-Americanism as their main weapon agaist the insurgency.

In politics, the difference between “bad” and “worse” is all the difference in the world.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com