The Iran lobby has been posturing to depict the Iranian presidential election as a battle between “moderates” and “hardliners” as personified by Hassan Rouhani versus Ebrahim Raisi. It has also sought to downplay any role top mullah Ali Khamenei plays in determining the outcome of the election.
The National Iranian American Council has been the most vocal of these groups in pushing this narrative. Examples of this includes pieces appearing in Huffington Post.
The first one by Reza Marashi of the NIAC argues this central conceit of reformists and pragmatists fending off hardline conservatives. The way Marashi describes it, it is almost a heroic struggle. The only thing missing is a dramatic musical score.
Marashi argues that the Iranian people want moderation and reform in their president. Not an unreasonable idea and one that he argues is supported by the election history of Mohammad Khatami and Rouhani, as well as the dismal election effort of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
He even portrays Rouhani as a trailblazer in opening political discourse with his election in 2013.
“While it’s true that election season in Iran traditionally allows for an expansion of otherwise taboo political discourse, Rouhani taken it to uncharted waters. First, he publicly committed to engaging in the process of lifting all non-nuclear sanctions if he wins a second term. Then he told a rally that he had not forgotten his 2013 campaign promises, openly stating: ‘Either they have been achieved, or I have been prevented from keeping them.’ And remarkably, he directly told voters: ‘I’ll need votes higher than 51% in order to do certain things,’” Marashi writes.
He goes on to portray Rouhani’s statement as threatening to the regime and a minor miracle he wasn’t hauled off to Evin Prison for daring to utter such statements.
Pardon us while we laugh hysterically at Marashi.
Rouhani has never been, nor ever will be considered a true moderate. He is a loyal member of the regime, pledging allegiance to the same radical theology that all office holders swear to. His past record in military, religious and judicial matters have provided him with bona fides as a harsh punisher of dissent.
His term over the past four years clearly demonstrates his willingness to go to extraordinary lengths to protect the Islamic revolution. During his tenure, the pace of executions rose to the highest level since the revolution, earning annual condemnations from the United Nations, Amnesty International and just about every other human rights organization on the planet.
He has also enforced a broad crackdown on free speech that Iranians access to unmonitored internet access is non-existent. Add to that mass arrests of journalists, the shutdown of blogs and newspapers, and efforts to crack the encryption of social apps such as Telegraph and WhatsApp and you start getting the picture of how bleak things are in Iran right now.
Marashi is correct on one point, which is that this election really is not about the presidency, but rather the positioning going on to succeed Khamenei at the top of the mullah pyramid.
In that regard Marashi and the Iran lobby are getting their cake and eating it too. If Rouhani is elected, they will get to trumpet the victory of moderation even though Rouhani is no moderate.
If Raisi is elected, they can blame it on a newly muscular approach by the Trump administration towards Iran and Middle East policy and never address the horrific crimes of the Iranian regime.
It is a neat solution for the Iran lobby.
Tyler Cullis of the NIAC takes up this issue in his piece in Huffington Post when he questions why Democratic members of Congress seem willing to give the Trump administration leeway in leveling additional sanctions on Iran.
“Democrats have signed up as co-sponsors for Senate and House legislation, believing their political fortunes best lie in supporting aggressive action against Iran rather than acting as a buffer against the Trump administration’s efforts to derail a nuclear accord that, by all accounts, is working as intended,” Cullis writes.
“Democrats are risking a historic mistake – an error in judgment that could end up both alienating their progressive base and costing them hoped-for electoral gains, not to mention setting the stage for a new conflict in the Middle East,” he adds.
Cullis raises the apocalyptic specter of war with Iran as the inevitable path from tightening sanctions against Iran.
It’s the same argument the NIAC has made repeatedly ever since Congress moved to get tougher with Iran as the regime fired off ballistic missiles, sent ships to aggressively confront the U.S. Navy and supported bloody conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen with men, arms and cash.
Cullis proclaims that war with Iran is the sure outcome from any effort to get tougher with Iran. Of course, that assumes that the mullahs only reaction is to go to war with the U.S by this logic.
In fact, the real story is that the mullahs purposely used the nuclear deal to buy time and get out from crushing economic sanctions that were threatening the very existence of the regime.
Now that Iran has received the benefits of billions in cash, foreign investment and the sale of its oil back on the open market, the usefulness and utility of keeping up the pretense of wanting to reach out to the global community is at an end.
Consequently, whether Rouhani or Raisi gets elected is a moot point, since the policies of the regime are not going to change no matter who gets elected. The NIAC has long acknowledged that the office of president in Iran lacks real power, which makes its impassioned arguments for “moderates” to win there even more incomprehensible.
Then again, logic was never a strong suit of the NIAC.
Cullis even makes the outrageous assumption that getting together on Iran will inevitably compel North Korea to take bolder action and not trust the word of the U.S. in any agreement.
“North Korea will view the U.S.’s abrogation of the Iran nuclear accord as clear evidence that the U.S. cannot be trusted to keep to its commitments and will refuse to deal with the Trump administration. In this case, peace will be impossible and war inevitable. Congress’s failings on Iran will spill over and deter peaceful settlement in other areas of conflict such as the Korean peninsula. Democrats will be on the hook once again,”
Really? Are we to assume that a North Korean regime that has broken every agreement it entered into, detonated nuclear devices and openly launches missiles with increasing range is going to be dissuaded by the U.S. commitment to Iran?
The lack of logic from the NIAC never ceases to amaze.