Post-Election Iran and the Way Ahead

By: Greg C. Reeson

Any hope that the result of last week’s presidential election in Iran might be overturned is now, more than likely, gone. More than 200 of the 290 members of Iran’s parliament have endorsed the victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has declared that there were no irregularities in the vote. Protestors and opposition leaders have been warned that they will be held accountable for creating “chaos” if street protests against the government continue, and the Iranian government appears to be making good on that pledge. Truth be told, though, as far as U.S. interests are concerned, it didn’t matter at all who won or even if, as many suspect, the election was stolen from former Prime Minister and opposition candidate Mir Hossain Mousavi.

Speaking to the cable news network CNBC shortly after the Iranian election, President Barack Obama said, “Either way, we are going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons. And so we’ve got long term interests in having them not weaponize nuclear power and stop funding organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. And that would be true whoever came out on top in this election.”
The President, who has been severely criticized for taking this position, is basically correct. The Iranian President is irrelevant as far as U.S. foreign policy is concerned. Ahmadinejad may have, with the help of the clerical regime that runs Iran, stolen the election. Then again he may not have. Ahmadinejad is very popular with large segments of Iran’s population. The nearly two-thirds of the vote he received in the election mirrors the limited, although suspect, polling numbers available prior to votes being cast, and is very close to the 62 percent he received when first elected in 2005. There are, of course, legitimate reasons for concern about the integrity of the electoral process, but outright fraud on a scale large enough to steal the election by such a significant margin is tough to prove.

Either way it doesn’t matter. Each of the four candidates running for president was hand-picked from a pool of nearly 500 applicants by the Guardian Council, an unelected body of clerics that, along with the Supreme Leader, wields the real power in Iran. Each of the candidates, including Mousavi, supported Iran’s quest for nuclear technology. Mousavi may have proved to be less confrontational and less problematic than Ahmadinejad, but that, in the grand scheme of things, is unimportant. The president in Iran is subordinate to the Supreme Leader. It is Khamenei who is calling the shots and who has the final word on foreign policy, state support for terrorism, national security, and the nuclear program. The important thing to take away from Iran’s presidential election is that the contest between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, or more precisely the response to Iranian citizens demonstrating against the regime, exposed Iran for what it is: a brutal, theocratic dictatorship that is more interested in maintaining an exclusive hold on power than it is in moving Iran forward.

In the months and years to come, the United States will have to figure out what to do about Iran’s activities in the Middle East. The oppression of the Iranian people is important, in the long-term. But in the short-term, the United States must be more focused on Iran’s continued support of terrorism through its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, the continued funding, arming, and training by Tehran of militia forces in Iraq and insurgent forces in Afghanistan, and Iran’s ongoing defiance of the international community over its suspected nuclear weapons acquisition efforts. Demonstrations of support for opponents of Iran’s clerical regime are justified and proper, and in keeping with traditional American values. But right now it is more critical for the United States to keep its eye on the ball and to focus its efforts on those issues that currently affect, or could potentially affect in the future, American national security.

Just as Supreme Leader Khamenei offered no concessions to the hundreds of thousands of protestors on the streets in cities throughout Iran, he will offer no concessions to us. That has been made abundantly clear, despite President Obama’s repeated overtures for dialogue and compromise. Keeping diplomatic channels open is appropriate, but no option should be taken off the table. It’s time to stop dilly dallying around with Tehran and get serious. There is no greater destabilizing force in the region, and the international community has got to take tougher action. Only strong, truly international measures that inflict serious pain on Iran are likely to have an effect. Tough sanctions enforced by the United States and some European allies are not all that tough when countries like Russia and China ignore them. Military force may be necessary at some point, and the world should prepare for that possibility. The aftermath of the presidential election in Iran put on display for all the word to see the brutal nature of the Iranian regime. It remains to be seen, though, if world is up to the task of dealing with the Iranian problem once and for all.

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