The recent election of Hassan Rouhani as the new president of Iran is an interesting development. The fact that he is a cleric is undoubtedly a cause for worry since that means that he is unlikely to push for liberalization of some of the government’s policies, especially towards women and the LGBT community.
On the other hand, the fact that he is being described as a ‘moderate’ who seeks to improve relations with the west must undoubtedly be causing anguish to the Israeli government, its lobby in the US, their neoconservative and evangelical allies, and the pundits who support them who have been pushing for war with that country. The idea of people saying anything good about the Iranian leadership must be painful for them to hear and you can expect to see a big effort to seize on something, anything, to demonize Rouhani as the next Hitler and get back to belligerency. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already said that “only heightened pressure and the threat of military action would deter Iran”.
Hillary Mann Leverett and Flynt Leverett have a good article that looks at the implications of the election.
The United States’ perennially mistaken Iran “experts” are already spinning Hassan Rouhani’s victory in Iran’s presidential election as a clear proof of the Islamic Republic’s ongoing implosion. In fact, Rouhani’s success sends a very different message: it is well past time for the US to come to terms with the reality of a stable and politically dynamic Islamic Republic of Iran.
The United States and the West need to get over the pernicious wishful thinking that the Islamic Republic is not an enduring and legitimate system for Iranians living in their country. And the Islamic Republic’s core features of participatory Islamist governance and foreign policy independence have broad appeal not just in Iran, but for hundreds of millions of Muslims across the Middle East. It’s time for the US to come to terms with that reality.
Stephen M. Walt says that the elections provide an opportunity for the US to change its current policy but is not hopeful that it will.
Perhaps the only person who will be seriously disappointed by the outcome is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is bound to miss the less-than-competent and reliably cartoonish figure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Although Rowhani’s election does present an opportunity, my bet is that the United States and Iran will find a way to squander it yet again. Since 2000 (if not before), the bipartisan U.S. approach to Iran has been to demand its complete capitulation on the question of nuclear enrichment and to steadily ratchet up sanctions in the hopes that Tehran will eventually give Washington everything it demands. Obama briefly let Brazil and Turkey pursue a more flexible approach, but his administration quickly scuttled the resulting deal.
Back in Washington, any attempt at a serious rapprochement will also have to overcome relentless opposition not only from AIPAC and the other major groups in the Israel lobby, but also from Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states.
So there we have it. I hope this does not become yet another example of that adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.