Ahmadinejad and the Shadow of Things to Come
Not Only Bush But The West Has Lost
More opportunistic than moderate, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was unable to import the LePen factor, which kept Chirac in the Elysée Palace, to Iran. This time, there was no coalition of reform-minded voters able to deliver a rap on the snout and bar the way to ultraconservative Mahmud Ahmadinejad. No argument for democracy was able to overcome the alliance of clerics and the underprivileged social classes on which Mayor of Teheran was counting.
Thus was a man with admitted nostalgia for Khomeini and Khomeinism, a leading supporter of the Pasdaran, a lay purist and hard-liner who desires an exemplary, developed and powerful Islamist society elected to lead Iran. Obviously, the defeated Rafsanjani has plenty of noble company. Exiting the Iranian presidential campaign defeated is the entire West, which had hoped to open a path towards modernization, wagered on gradual secularization of Iranian society and politics, desired a liberalized economy (instead, the new President promises to favor the national oil company) and wished for the full reinstatement of Teheran into the international community. But if it is a bitter pill for everyone, some have more trouble swallowing it than others. I’m thinking here of George Bush’s America, worthily engaged in spreading democracy throughout the world as the preferred instrument in the war on terror.
To counter the stinging blow of the Iranian setback, Washington responds with well-grounded accusations of fraud, but wasn’t fraud apparent in the Iraqi and Afghani elections, which were celebrated without much attention being paid to irregularities? From the beginning there was always the risk that values would be sacrificed in the service of political aims and now it is difficult to distinguish good elections from bad. Then there’s Iraq. One year after the transfer of sovereignty the situation on the ground has worsened and the attempt to build a democratic Iraqi is now traversing a very delicate phase: the Shi’a and the Kurds are trying to involve the Sunni in the drafting of the new Constitution, but all three groups are riven by internal divisions. Contemporaneously, US public opinion shows signs of fatigue and the list of countries withdrawing their troops lengthens. And so, what role will be played by the hawk Ahmadinejad inside Iraqi Shi’ite majority, which so far has been guided to reason by Ayatollah Sistani? He certainly has the ability to throw oil on the fire. Especially if his hyper-nationalistic vision causes him support the territorial dismemberment of Iraq, leading to civil war.
So the ball is dramatically back in Bush’s court. Even the European Union has taken a beating. The Anglo-French-German (an interesting combination for these times) effort to dissuade Iran from its uranium enrichment program did not deliver any concrete results prior to the elections. And it is even less likely to do so now that Ahmadinejad has risen to power, without taking into account that all segments of Iranian society are united in the defense of the nuclear program (said to be for civilian purposes). Russia has already offered to continue its nuclear cooperation with Teheran. From European capitals calls are heard urging the finalization of nuclear negotiations with Iran but the USA, which never really had much faith in the success of the European effort, now has even more reasons to insist on the imposition of United Nations sanctions on Iran. But what if the sanctions don’t work? What if Ahmadinejad turns out to be the intransigent that he has always been held to be? What if the specter of Islamic terrorism materializes with access to the bomb? Then the military option will inevitably be returned to the table, assuming it had ever been off. With its thousands of operational unknowns coupled with the risk of setting off a firestorm throughout the Gulf or even across the entire Middle East. Human rights on the inside, Iraq and the nuclear issue on the outside--these are the tests awaiting the new Iranian president and doubtlessly the agenda of the G-8 which will meet in Scotland 10 days from now. It’s too soon to have any answers. But nervousness and fear of the worst have already gripped the West.