Be forewarned: the possibility exists that Ayatollah Khamenei is using Mir-Hossein Mousavi as a sham presidential contestant for Iran’s upcoming presidential “election” June 12th. Supreme Leader Khamenei could use a hypothetical Mousavi presidency as a ploy to fool the world into believing Iran has turned a positive corner — all the while, the mullahs will simply be buying time to ascertain nuclear weaponry. It would be far easier, far likelier, and much more politically expedient for President Obama to invite a fresh face like Mousavi to the White House Rose Garden, than to be seen shaking hands with the inflammatory Ahmadinejad. Likewise, it would be much harder for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to convince Europe to increase international pressure on Iran’s nuclear program with a new, smiling, “reformist” Iranian president, juxtaposed to his rabble-rousing predecessor.
By theoretically deceiving the West with Mousavi, Iran’s mullahs would make Israel’s warnings seem hollow and unfounded — or at least, less founded than during Ahmadinejad’s presidency. This would constitute a huge geopolitical victory for the mullahs.
This “democratic process” is anything but democratic, of course, as the nominees for the office must be pre-approved by the unelected clergymen who truly rule the country — which is what makes the list of presidential nominees all the more intriguing.
President Ahmadinejad will be facing reelection. Since his unexpected rise in 2005, Ahmadinejad has cast himself as a firebrand, with a flare for the rhetorically incendiary. He has famously denied the Holocaust, called for the elimination of Israel countless times, and has held international conferences to discuss the possibility of a “world without America.” As Iranian dissident Amir Abbas Fakhravar once told me, “Ahmadinejad is the true face of the Iranian regime.” In other words, what Ahmadinejad says publicly is precisely what Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his clerical inner-circle think privately.
Therefore, it should not come as a surprise to the world should Ahmadinejad — a man who has violated nearly all of his economic promises — “magically” be granted another four-year term. The mullahs sense weakness on the part of the West and might not feel inclined to alter course. After all, President Obama has already promised to meet with Ahmadinejad, which will legitimize Ahmadinejad’s rule and give the regime more time to pursue nuclear weapons. Additionally, the United States government is in full carrot-and-stick mode — with a special emphasis on the carrots. The mullahs might be thinking: “If it is not broken, why fix it?”
But alas, the mullahs have a second option: trumpeting up another “reformer” as a domestic savior — to placate the righteous rage of the oppressed Iranian citizenry — and as a temporary international redeemer of Iran’s reputation. In 1997, Mohammad Khatami was such a “reformer.” The Iranian people voted Khatami into power with hopes of a Persian-version of glasnost and perestroika.
Needless to say, those hopes were misplaced. Khatami oversaw some of the most brutal crackdowns on dissent in all of Iran’s history. In July 1999, Khatami’s henchmen violently suppressed peaceful student protestors, who were calling for democracy. The Basij, a violent paramilitary group that answers to the regime, viciously killed Iranian civilians and threw thousands of innocents in prison (many were never heard from again).
This time around, Khatami is smart enough not to run. The Iranian people have been down that road before, and to paraphrase The Who, they won’t get fooled again. This does not mean, however, that the regime will refrain from putting forth another “con candidate,” offering Iranians the supposed choice to opt out of their current conundrum.
Mr. Mir-Hossein Mousavi seems to be such a candidate. On the surface, Mousavi casts himself as a moderate reformist who will reintroduce Iran to the world. This appeals to Iranians, who find it a source of shame when their leadership makes Iran an international pariah-state.
But is Mousavi the real deal? Jon Lee Anderson from The New Yorker tries to answer that question, with a telling piece that all Iran-watchers should read with a skeptical eye. The article asks a question many officials have long asked — “Can Iran Change?” — but the silver lining to Anderson’s premise should not be overlooked. Dishearteningly, Anderson seems to buy into the bogus supposition — hook line and sinker — that a “gap” exists between Iran’s “conservative hard-liners” and Iran’s “reformists.” This is a lie.
Students of international relations, if they take only one thing away from their studies, should resist this false narrative, and emancipate themselves from the superstition that suggests Iranian “reformists” truly have reform on their agenda. Iranian history has proven that they do not.
Mousavi’s life, in fact, suggests he is knee-deep in violent government activity. Mousavi is a 67-year-old former prime minister who has risen in regime ranks while being entrenched to the apparatus of the Islamic state. He was Khomeini’s premier during the Iran-Iraq war, and is a former minister of foreign affairs, as well as a member of the Expediency Discernment Council, which helps appoint the Supreme Leader of Iran. While he is offering Iranians change in word, in deed that is another story altogether.
There is no telling who will win Iran’s undemocratic election next month. But if it is Mir-Hossein Mousavi, officials in the State Department should ignore the conventional wisdom and remember the lessons of Khatami. For whatever “happy” image Mousavi may exude in public, in reality, the man behind the curtain will be up to his usual tricks.