OPPONENTS of taking a tough line on Iran have always claimed that
imposing sanctions (not to mention threatening military action) would
strengthen the Islamic Republic's most radical elements.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice looks to have bought that argument.
Last week, she agreed to water down the new sanctions that her advisers
had devised against the Islamic Republic.
Waving an olive branch, Rice also called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute over Tehran's illicit nuclear ambitions.
Events inside Iran, however, provide a different picture. The Council
of the Guardians of the Constitution, a 12-man committee of mullahs and
their legal advisers, this week rejected applications from nearly 4,000
men and women to run in the March 14 general election. Nearly all the
denied applicants belong to the 21 groups designated by Western
observers as "reformist" opponents of the ultra-radical President
The list of the rejected reads like a
Who's-Who of politicians regarded by many in the West as "moderates"
who would put the regime on a less confrontational trajectory.
It includes individuals who served under Presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani
and Muhammad Khatami, as well as scores of former members of the
Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis), the 290-seat ersatz parliament
set up by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1980.
In what looks
like a massive purge, a total of 103 members of the present Majlis, all
critics of Ahmadinejad, were also declared "unfit" for re-election.
To be sure, the so-called reformists have never proposed any reform
program as such. Rafsanjani spent most of his eight years as president
building his business empire; Khatami spent his tenure traveling the
world and building his image as an amateur philosopher working for "a
dialogue of civilizations."
More regime opponents were killed or thrown into prison under
Rafsanjani and Khatami than under Ahmadinejad. And both "reformers"
tried to export the Khomeinist revolution via agents and clients in
many Muslim countries, especially in the Middle East.
both also used the trick of excluding opponents from electoral lists.
In 2004, when Khatami was president, more than two-thirds of applicants
What differentiated the two men from Ahmadinejad was their penchant for taqiyeh (dissimulation) - an old trick of the mullahs who have turned speaking with a forked tongue into fine art.
Ahmadinejad, by contrast, shuns taqiyeh.
What is on his tongue comes from his heart. He firmly believes that his
brand of Islam stands on the threshold of victory against a corrupt,
weak, fat and cowardly West led by a deeply divided United States.
The West's soft line so far has persuaded many Iranians that
Ahmadinejad may be right after all. Far from benefiting the so-called
moderates, the cuddly policy (preached by the likes of European Union
foreign-policy czar Javier Solana) has strengthened the Ahmadinejad-led
radicals. After all, the man is thumbing his nose at all the great
powers and superpowers - and getting away with it. Why abandon a winner
and side with people who've always looked like losers?
captured the presidency and the Council of Ministers that goes with it,
the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is now determined to storm other
centers of power, starting with the Majlis. It has put one of its own,
Gen. Reza Afshar, in charge of organizing the elections, with other
Guard officers heading elector- al commissions across the country.
"Until recently they just wanted a majority," says Nasser Abdallahzade,
one of the rejected hopefuls. "Now they want every single seat."
Even then, Ahmadinejad has taken care to reduce the powers of the
Majlis. In a letter published last week, he told the speaker of the
Majlis that the ersatz parliament has no authority to force the
government to change its policies. That is, that it's there simply to
rubber-stamp the executive's every decision.
Ghulam-Ali Haddad-Adel, found the letter so insulting that he
complained to his father-in-law, "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei. After
several days of hesitation, Khamenei responded with a letter that
sounded like a mild rebuke for Ahmadinejad and a vague assertion of the
rights of the Majlis.
But even that was too much for
Ahmadinejad, who responded by saying that such epistolary exercises
wouldn't affect his government. "The government will continue doing
what is best for Islam," he asserted.
What will the so-called
moderates and reformists do now that they have little chance of gaining
a foothold in the Majlis? The decent response would be a boycott of an
exercise that no longer has any real sense. Why vote in an election,
when the winners have already been chosen in the shady corridors of
The trouble is that the "moderates" and "reformists" of
the Khomeinist camp lack the courage of their pretensions. They
resemble the happy cuckold who remains faithful to his marriage bond
under all circumstances.
This is how Muhammad-Reza Aref, a
former "first assistant president" under Khatami and now the principal
spokesman of the "reformists" has reacted to his own blacklisting and
that of virtually all his associates: "We might decide not to field any
candidates," he said. "But we shall not call for a boycott of the
elections, because we do not wish to harm the regime. We want the
people to vote knowing that we have no candidates. In this way,
everyone would know that we are not responsible for things. We will
protest, but won't make a big noise."
Khatami: These are the guys that Rice, hoodwinked by her advisers,
seems to be banking on to bring the Islamic Republic back to reason.
With enemies like that, Ahmadinejad needs no friends.