Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
June 12, 2009

Iran's Election

Today Iran has the first round of presidential election. If none of the four candidates reaches 50% of the votes another round with the top two candidates will be held on June 19.

The Guardian headlines Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces defeat if election not rigged, say Iranian experts. That is, of course total nonsense.

There are no reliable polls available. Despite the plural in the headline the Guardian only asked one expert, Saeed Lelyaz, who is an economist and certainly not political neutral. That "expert" saying something is just the usual shaping of expectations. Few if any "experts" predicted Ahmadinejad's huge win in the last election.

The "west" is hoping for "change" in Iran. Not much change will come whoever gets elected.

While the tone in the foreign policy may change the substance will not. This not because Iran does not want to change its policies but because the "west" will overreach. If Ahmadinejad wins they will accuse all Iranians as standing behind his words and use that argument to ratch up sanctions. If Mousavi wins the "west" will increase its demands and leave him no face saving way but to turn away from the "offer".

Local economic policies may well change as Mousavi has a different client group than Ahmadinejad and will have to satisfy some of its demands. But just like about anywhere the structure of the economic and political system in Iran does not allow for big fast moves and it may take years before results of new economic policies become visible.

Real structural change - to the left or to the right - will not be allowed. Any attempt for a color revolution like event will be shot down immediately and, if needed, brutally.

Still, within its system Iran allows much more freedom than any other country in the area. The real fear the Arab dictatorships have of Iran is that their masses may eventually want to follow its much more progressive example. A victory by Mousavi may indeed lead to more change on the west coast of the Persian Gulf than on its eastern side.

Posted by b on June 12, 2009 at 8:48 UTC | Permalink


I find this somewhat funny.

For years the anti-Iranian "west" used the "threats" of Ahmedinejad as its major point against Iran. Not so stupid people always pointed out that Ahmedinejad does not have the last word in Iran but that Khamenei as supreme leader is in charge (in reality it is more complex - Khamenei also has to care about other power centers).

Now that Ahmedinejad is probably going away, the "threat" is immediately transferred.

Haaretz: ANALYSIS / All Iran candidates will bolster Hamas, Hezbollah ties

Iranian foreign relations are dictated by supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who has given U.S. overtures a cold shoulder so far.

Posted by: b | Jun 12 2009 11:26 utc | 1

Good, sane comment:

Iran's Presidential Elections: A Surge of Reformists in Politics

The goal of the reformists for Friday is to take the election to the second round, where they think they have a good chance of defeating Mr. Ahmadinejad. Odds are good that this will happen, but by no means will it be easy. First, Mr. Ahmadinejad is a formidable campaigner and enjoys the implicit support of the Supreme Leader as well as large sections of the lower classes. Second, in the last two years he has been busy redistributing income to the lower strata and evidence shows that this may have succeeded in creating greater support. Finally, no president of the Islamic Republic has served just one term throughout Iran’s history.
No matter what happens on Friday, this election has scored a decisive victory for Iranian politics. Despite ad hominem attacks and populist distractions, politicians are being held accountable for their record.

Posted by: b | Jun 12 2009 11:29 utc | 2

The "west" is hoping for "change" in Iran. Not much change will come whoever gets elected.

Beg to differ on this one.

I have no idea if Mousavi will change the nuclear policy should he get elected; but if he does ascend to the presidency, and then doesn't change the nuclear policy (which is what i think is going to happen), then Israel will be caught against a wall vis a vis its planned nuclear strike.

With the West hailing Mousavi as it is, there will also be a renewed opening for China to consolidate its relationship with Iran.

Mousavi getting elected would mean a massive shift in Western policy -- it's only looking for the excuse, so it can save face and pretend victory -- while i seriously doubt it would really change all that much in terms of Iran's foreign policy.

I remember an amazing interview Rafsanjani gave back in about 1998 or so, with 60 Minutes, i think (the one where they insisted the entire, uncut interview be repeatedly re-cast on C-Span later in the week). Confronted by whatever ass it was trying to catch him up as a "terrorist apologist", Rafsanjani was utterly non-plussed and unapologetic for the list of "atrocities" the interviewer wanted to pin on his country. He had a wisely pithy response (or two) that meant something along the lines, "Well, the U.S. has done a lot of bad things, too, and in any event nobody has pinned any of this on us."

Mousavi is Rafsanjani's boy, and though he'll mean rennaisance in Irani culture, it'll mean a "breakthrough" in foreign relations only in the sense that it'll allow Europe to embrace detente, force the U.S. to openly turn away from the invasion option, and pin Israel against its own worst elements.

If Ahmadinejad gets elected, i believe Obama will continue to strive for a peaceful solution -- but i think it'll probably fail.

Posted by: china_hand2 | Jun 12 2009 11:33 utc | 3

@china hand2 - Mousavi is Rafsanjani's boy,

I doubt that that is true. While they are politically quite in line Mousavi is to old and experienced to be anyones "boy".

On the "western" reaction we will have to wait. I do expect that more pressure on Iran will be the result of a Mousavi victory. Why?
Mousavi bad for Israel - A reformist win in Iranian elections will bring Tehran closer to bomb

There is no doubt that Israel is interested in seeing a liberal regime that is less hostile to it in Iran. Yet in light of the structure of Iran’s regime it could very well be that an Ahmadinejad win – and as result continued popular bitterness within Iran and the harsh approach to Iran on the international stage – is better for Israel.

Posted by: b | Jun 12 2009 12:01 utc | 4

Eh. That was rambling and frayed. Sorry.

I should add:

The Obama administration is looking for an opening that will allow them to back away from the invasion option while also appearing to have achieved victory (right wingers aren't going to buy it, but that's another issue; in light of the increasing internal violence, it's worrisome -- but for the moment we're not talking about that, right?). With a Mousavi victory, portions of the media are going to start crowing about how the change is a testament to the virtues of diplomacy. Lots will be made about the Irani nuclear program, but in the end what's going to happen -- that article you pointed to yesterday, about Kerry, portends it -- is the U.S. is going to publicly back away from Bush-era rhetoric, embrace the IAEA, and look to push through some big, flashy, symbolic agreements that indicate an "opening" of Iran and a resolution of the nuclear issue.

Right-wingers are going to call forth the spectre of North Korea, and say Obama has sold us out to the Musselmans.

But for the moment it's either that, or attack Iran -- and every sane person (i.e. - non-evangelical/born-again nutcase) in the Pentagon knows that's a ticket to Ragnarok -- it'll essentially lead to some form of nuclear warfare, and if the U.S. is associated with it in any way -- whether only an implied pardon of an Israeli attack or something more overt -- it'll undermine every last promise the U.S. has made to every one of its allies and enemies over the last forty years.

The military knows what that means. The Rethuglicans don't: it'll be the final nail in the coffin that Bush and Cheney built, and an open invitation for the act of "nuclear terrorism" that Cheney so effectively advertised.

Obama's trying to manufacture an elegant detente with Iran, nothing else: since assuming the presidency, his actions vis a vis Israel and Palestine are stalling tactics. Obama's trying to wait Netanyahu and the IDF crazies out (the tempo of that particular game is clearly on his side, though -- h/t Obamageddon -- his cowardly inaction on behalf of Gaza is truly shameful), and if Mousavi gets elected he'll get a huge boost of momentum.

As regards China, the main problem currently facing the Middle Kingdom's alliance with Persia is Western jealousy and paranoia. If Mousavi gets elected, then what we're going to see are three things:

A) An about-face on mediated Irani government rhetoric; no more crazy speeches, just rational appeals to international law supplemented by sweetness and "We want to be friends" light.

B) Much greater effort and much more advertisement of Iran-U.S. "anti-terrorism" cooperation.

C) Open competition between China and Europe/US for access to Iranian oil fields.

What we won't directly see is the quiet development of Chinese-Iranian cooperation vis a vis Central Asian geopolitics. The U.S. will try to use AfPak to disrupt that, but as anyone who's been seriously reading you for any lenghth of time knows, b --

that's doomed to failure.

Posted by: china_hand2 | Jun 12 2009 12:13 utc | 5

I doubt that that is true. While they are politically quite in line Mousavi is to old and experienced to be anyones "boy".

I think you're overestimating the evolution of the Iranian political environment.

Rafsanjani got a toe-hold, and he had to fight like hell for it.

If Mousavi gets a foothold, it'll be built upon the path Rafsanjani has pioneered, and he won't be able to pretend like it isn't.

Also, this may be a bit of mis-communication, here. "Good ol' boy", where i come from, is a compliment one gives to fellows of the culture (i've even heard it applied to women). The key is the context in which it's used.

I think Mousavi is certainly his own man, but there's no denying he's building on what Rafsanjani has already laid down and needs that support.

Posted by: china_hand2 | Jun 12 2009 12:19 utc | 6


Thanks for the link. The fact that things wouldn't change that much even if Moussavi wins are made clear also from the news Haaretz published some days ago about an Israeli "PR war" against Iran during the elections: it said that protests against Iranian embassies would have taken place anyway, not "in case Ahmadinejad wins", so it doesn't matter who wins or which political strategy he will adopt.
Israeli have already decided that Iran is THE rogue state, while Western countries see Iran as the key to control the whole Middle East, so the latter are trying a real rapprochement.
The only hope is that Obama's policy to distance himself from Israeli requests and stand against them is real, but I tend to be skeptical about that.

Posted by: andrew | Jun 12 2009 12:39 utc | 7


The Israeli election PR war has been a dismal failure thus far as all we've had is the standard fare that gets vomited up on a regular basis; today's Con Coughlin piece in the Telegraph is a good example.

There's been a fair amount of positive coverage of the elections by the UK broadcasters, and today we've had the BBC going live every so often to cover expats waiting to vote at the Iranian consulate in London; I'd be very interested if there was anything similar going on with the US broadcasters, as there is a much larger Iranian expat population there and, to the best of my knowledge, there are at least 30 polling locations across the country. In general I'd say that the footage of Iranians campaigning, voting, expressing their opinions - whether pro or contra Ahmadinejad - rather undermines the standard propaganda/media tropes about Iran, as what we see are recognisably modern people, in recognisably modern settings, taking a democratic process, however "flawed", very seriously.

The funny thing is, that the media in general is suffering from a massive case of amnesia - there was a fair degree of coverage of the 2005 elections, which were similarly cast as "the most important evaah". I've no doubt that similar things were said in 1997, 2001 etc. but nobody noticed.

In many respects. it seems to me, that the current election is a reprise of 1997 - with the added frisson that the Iranian political scene is far more advanced, more open and more confident, and there's a good chance that if Mousavi wins he will manage to enact Khatami's agenda with a far greater degree of success. Whilst I've no doubt that there are substantive links between Mousavi and Rafsanjani, there's an awful lot of usage of Khatami's image on his campaign literature. I don't think that this is an accident.

On a broader note, whilst it's easy and tempting to get caught up with issues of personality, sovereign interests don't change that readily. Whoever wins, the US and Iran are going to reach for a realistic modus vivendi as there's simply no alternative - the military option, which was never realistic in the first place, has been stone cold dead since 2005.

Posted by: dan | Jun 12 2009 13:30 utc | 8

I haven't delved into Mousavi's past. But I'm sure someone from AEI, WINEP or their multiple analogs have. They will no doubt find some statement of Mousavi, perhaps from his premiership during the Iran Iraq war, that is appropriately hard line, anti-west, anti-Israel. It will be replayed and embellished in the media loop and bam! There you have it. One nut case replacing another.

It may or may not work in channeling the debate in the neocon way, but it will certainly be tried. And if Ahmadinejad wins...well that storyline is obvious. There will also be accusations of vote rigging and stolen elections, delegitimizing the president.

Ahmadinejad, for all his faults, did confront the west and force them to come to the table on his terms. Khatami's moderation, help in Afghanistan, nuclear enrichment freeze got Iran nothing. If Mousavi wins I doubt he will give away Iran's best bargaining chip for a pat on the head. But I'm not sure he wont. With Ahmadinejad, I'm sure.

China hand, "Israel will be caught against a wall vis a vis its planned nuclear strike." Do you really think such a thing is possible?

Posted by: Lysander | Jun 12 2009 14:10 utc | 9

A good sign: Iran extends polling as record turnout is expected

As Iran witnesses an unprecedented turnout in its closely-fought presidential election, the polling time is extended to accommodate the massive lines of voters.

The Interior Ministry announced that the polling time has been extended to 8 p.m. local time.
Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli said that the turnout would be above 70 percent -- a new record.

High turnout is likely to favor Mousavi.

Posted by: b | Jun 12 2009 15:26 utc | 10


Whilst I agree that irrespective of the winner, the Iranians are going to continue the stance of asserting their rights over the nuclear issue, I do think that the "atmospherics" matter.

Mousavi can clearly deliver on that score, and it will be far more palatable, and therefore easier, to the US administration to make concessions to him rather than to Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad has represented "progress" in one very clear sense though - he's asserted the power of the Iranian presidency as a substantive office. Contra to the usual trope that Khamenei is in charge of foreign policy, I would suggest that Ahmadinejad has been the most visible and activist post-1979 Iranian president in this arena; again, this is a positive development that will likely continue. Whilst this may read as a premature political obituary, as Ahmadinejad isn't guaranteed to lose, I think it's worth noting that this is the guy "who broke the mould of Iranian politics", and in a funny way, has opened the path for greater freedom of political speech.

Now, assuming that Mousavi wins, the propaganda trope that will be utilised by the usual suspects is that the presidency doesn't matter, it's Khamenei who is the real power ( again, see the Coughlin article that articulates this narrative quite clearly ) and therefore none of this matters, it's all a horrible charade blah blah blah, forget about all those people voting, another false dawn, blah blah blah, PLEASE can someone get those bombers in the air, blah blah blah.

Posted by: dan | Jun 12 2009 15:59 utc | 11

BTW --

I'm a (more-than-you-can-imagine) poor motherfucker who would love an opportunity to learn more about investment markets from someone who knows.

I'm very good with words, can read chinese, has exceptional people skills, and enjoys assimilating obscure economic and socio-logistic concepts.

I can also fight my way out of a mean bar.

And i know this sounds like spam, but it's not. I just need a job.

Posted by: china_hand2 | Jun 12 2009 18:12 utc | 12

Ech. Looked at the first line and thought this had been posted:



Russia and China are already in stable agreement with Iran, and if Europe wants to pull out of this econonmic slump it's going to need to engage both of those giants. Thus, any act by Isreal to unilaterally strike Iran is going to drive what would certainly be an insurmountable wedge between Europe, the U.S., and Japan -- and would probably immediately destroy NATO.

For my part, the basic distinction between the Democrats and Rethuglicans is that the former wants to preserve NATO and the UN, while the latter wants to dissolve them in pursuit of unilateral Empire.

From the NYT:

Almost from the beginning of the crisis, the United States and Europe chose largely different paths to aiding their economies. The most stark was Washington’s willingness to commit hundreds of billions of dollars to stimulus spending — in addition to moving aggressively to shore up banks and keep credit flowing — versus Europe’s worry that similar spending would increase inflation in the future.

The NYT is hailing the last few months of economic activity as a U.S. victory; it's doing so as a loyal propagandist, and the two countries it serves are clearly Israel (via, ironically enough, Evangelical Christianity) and the U.S. I, however, see the preceing few months as the calm before the storm, and i think an awful lot of Europeans do, too (although i'll add: the Europeans who do certainly aren't here in Taiwan, because most of those i meet here are reactionary German, British, and Central European fascists who are convinced the U.S. is destined to rule for-e-vah!). The European elite seem to be taking a (wisely) long-term, wait-and-see view towards this crisis, whereas -- as the Nation article says -- "This crisis brought down the world economy and yet Congress still hasn't passed a bill making sure it doesn't happen again" (nor even had a public discussion about why that might be something to think about).

Outside of Asia, my key foreign-policy bellweathers are Central/South America and Central/Eastern Europe (i'm a relative ignoramus about Africa, and b_real's another reason why i love this community so much). East Europe, as b reported earlier today, may well be headed towards an Asian-style meltdown a la 1997. Regardless if that happens or not, the region is already putting an awful strain on NATO, and is pushing Germany and France to build some significant bridges with Russia (which is already divesting itself of U.S. securities in favor of the IMF - a step that can be seen as preparatory to underwriting European debt, instead, which would array them with Europe much like the current Chinese-U.S.A. relationship).

I've been harping on the call by China to create a new world currency; most folks in the West, as i sense it, perceive it as a hubristic tactical move by an upstart power, but i see it far more as an overture to Europe that says "Hey -- we've got five times the population of the U.S, and twenty times the history. We were around when Jesus was kicking at the moneylenders. We're happy to let colonial bygones be bygones, and join up with you as a full-fledged economic partner under a neutral currency. Just give us the word." At the same time, Taiwan has developed scientific and technological parks that are practically the equal to that of the U.S. or Japan -- they are only lacking the talent pool. The management systems in place will be able to run with it, and Taiwan and China are very close to re-unifying. The U.S. knows this. So does Europe. Only "us" -- the "public" -- doesn't (and that's what worries me; that when the U.S. squares off over Taiwan, it'll be Iraq all over again).

So Central Europe is poised to perhaps swing back towards Russia in a reaction against the emerging crisis, while non-White America is basically either moving towards China, or rending itself to shreds trying to get away from the U.S. (Mexico, yeah?).

Now, Israel tosses off a few nukes into Iran.

What do you think all those Central European and Central Asian countries are going to do?

Turn around and embrace the U.S. like a brother, make it tea and invite it in to marry the first daughter?

I doubt it.

And i'd guess in this case: if i doubt it, then so does the Pentagon.

Posted by: china_hand2 | Jun 12 2009 18:15 utc | 13

Oh, but of course, elections are only rigged in countries that aren't in the Meet The Parents' Circle of Trust. Isn't it funny that there were no complaints about the election being rigged in Obama's favor? Why is that? What constitutes rigging? If the media throws its weight behind a candidate because its corporate sponsors insist they do, is that rigging? Or, is rigging just playing with the ballot box, electronic, or otherwise?

By the way, nothing I said above indicates that I believe the Iranian election will be rigged, or not. It's about double standards and exceptionalism.

Posted by: Obamageddon | Jun 12 2009 19:31 utc | 14

Early results from small towns are in fav of Ahmadinejad.
No early result yet from Key cities of Tehtan, Esfahan, Mashad, Tabriz , Shiraz , Qum

Posted by: Loyal | Jun 12 2009 19:35 utc | 15

On what basis do you assert that Mousavi is "his own man?" I find that awfully hard to believe. Politicians are whores of one form, or another. Ahmadinejad is a whore to the conservative religious idealogues and, I would surmize, Mousavi is a whore to the business/corporate interests. There's no such thing as "his own man" when it comes to politics. A politician switches his identity according to his latest benefactors. "It's a matter of simian survival."

Posted by: Obamageddon | Jun 12 2009 19:40 utc | 16

From various small cities Ahmadinejad is ahead by large margin

from 10,000,000 vote count , He has about 6,000.000 so far

Posted by: Loyal | Jun 12 2009 20:21 utc | 17


Ahmadinejad is ahead So far 68% statistically winner.

Posted by: Loyal | Jun 12 2009 20:43 utc | 18

I saw Mousavi on C4 or BBC earlier today to claim that the republican guard will fix the election, Al Gore never said that!!

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Jun 12 2009 20:53 utc | 19

Ahmadinejad has represented "progress" in one very clear sense though - he's asserted the power of the Iranian presidency as a substantive office.

Dan, I think you are absolutely right on that count: contra Western propaganda, Ahmedinejad is at least as much the product of a "democratic" process as GWB is--and, especially in the Middle East, that's a rarity. What's more, he is far more of an everyman in Iran--at least in the sense that he is not a cleric or a religious leader in some other form. By advancing the power and prestige of an elective office over a non-elected, religious one, he has advanced the cause of democracy in Iran more than anyone since 1979--regardless of whatever Western propaganda has to say. Now, if he does lose and exit the office gracefully, he will have made an even greater contribution.

Posted by: kao-hsien-chih | Jun 12 2009 21:06 utc | 20

@china hand2 - Mousavi is Rafsanjani's boy,

Rafsanjani support might not mean much... wasn't he the one that Ahmedinajad creamed in getting elected in the first place??

Posted by: Tosk59 | Jun 12 2009 22:06 utc | 21

I'm a (more-than-you-can-imagine) poor motherfucker

Barkeep, give this man a double! I've been unemployed since November of '07, so a virtual bar is the only kind I can afford anyway.

Posted by: Jim T. | Jun 12 2009 23:44 utc | 22

Firstly, this is one of the most responsible and informative blog comments sections I've ever followed.
- Congratulations to all contributors
- Moon of Alabama - How did you do this? See Mondoweiss' problems

Second - it seems, from early reports, that Ahmadinejad is ahead in the Iranian elections. So what will happen now?

Will 'the West' talk to him or demonise him? Or, more sensibly, talk to others, and keep him up there in the Punch 'n' Judy show?

Posted by: Richard | Jun 13 2009 1:19 utc | 23

"I'm a (more-than-you-can-imagine) poor motherfucker"
china_hands2 - go to China, they are hiring.

Posted by: outsider | Jun 13 2009 5:47 utc | 24

I do want to go to China --

but my wife objects. She's Taiwanese, rather timid, and scared of the place. But i'm working on her.

At any rate, Mousavi's lost -- all that blabbering for nothing.

Posted by: china_hand2 | Jun 13 2009 6:13 utc | 25

Richard@23 That site looked to me like some kind of Neocon wishing well. Every comment I read was wailing about the stolen election. What stolen election? Are these guys on the ground in Iran, reporting? No, of course not. But their boy didn't win, so it must be stolen. The fact is nobody in the world wants to bow to the neocons and kiss their ring (or whatever). I guess they think propaganda will make up for that.

Posted by: Jim T. | Jun 13 2009 21:19 utc | 26

I'm very so sorry

Posted by: me | Jun 16 2009 12:18 utc | 27

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