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Gary Sick: Bush of the US and ahmadinejad of Iran
Rooz Online ^ | Gary Sick

Posted on 06/30/2005 1:36:26 PM PDT by F14 Pilot

I hesitate to weigh in on this subject with so many interesting and insightful contributions already posted. However, since I've been doing a series of interviews, I have had to develop opinions on all aspects of the Iranian elections. Since everyone else is doing it, here are my own questions, comments and evolving views.

Ahmadinejad seems to have been the beneficiary of a populist revolt (in addition to a little polling station assistance from his friends in the Revolutionary Guards and Basij). A friend of mine compares this to the election of Communist mayors in Italy during the Cold War -- who were elected not because of ideology but because they were seen as separate from the existing corrupt power structure and more efficient. (That proved to be correct in many cases, but these were mayors, after all, not presidents.) I think the populism of Ahmadinejad can be compared with the Chavez and Peronist movements, but I wouldn't want to press that too far, partly because I don't know enough about Latin America.

The comparison with the George W Bush political phenomenon in the US is very useful, not because the two men or their nations are particularly alike, but rather to explain what is going on politically and what it may mean. Ahmadinejad has assembled, or at least is the product of, a large constituency composed of people who place special value on religious and traditional values. He also seems to have the support of much of the military establishment. He has apparently never traveled outside his own country and has no personal experience in foreign policy. He has a PhD from an elite university and has been the mayor of one of the largest cities in the world (somewhere in size between London and Beijing), but he portrays himself convincingly as a no-nonsense, plain man of the people. He is not a cleric (the first non-cleric president of Iran since the earliest years after the revolution) but wears his religion on his sleeve far more than most of the "political clerics" who have been leading the country for most of the past 25 years.

The similarities (and there are many points of difference as well) suggest that it would be unwise to underestimate Ahmadinejad or regard him as a fluke. And the apparently genuine approval reflected in numerous man-in-the-street interviews suggests it would be wrong to regard this as nothing but a case of election rigging. It was clearly not a fair and free election, but a lot of the emerging evidence suggests that the man who won had the votes.

One of the greatest differences between Bush and Ahmadinejad appears to be economic policy. He is a protectionist and seems to be wedded to the notion of subsidies for the poor. That is very different from George W Bush, and it is contrary to the direction Iran has been moving in recent years. Perhaps that is why he was so appealing to people who are looking for subsidies and direct help (e.g. handouts proposed by one candidate) and who feel that the system has forgotten them and failed them. One could argue that there are far better ways to provide economic benefits to the poor (e.g. job creation), but it looks as if the new president will have to be persuaded. At a minimum it suggests that he will be less interested in pursuing WTO membership if it conflicts (as it no doubt would) with his populist agenda.

This was a changing of the guard. Ahmadinejad is about 16 years younger than Khamene`i and 21 years younger than Rafsanjani. He is, however, totally a product of the revolution, He was 22 when the shah fell, and he has had experience on the front in the Iran-Iraq war and participation in the hard line Basij paramilitary. Not only is he not likely to renounce the revolutionary mystique, he is likely to take it upon himself to revive that mystique, which has been visibly waning over time. His youth, however, suggests there will be some experimentation and false starts and perhaps new directions that are still far from clear, perhaps as much to Ahmadinejad as to the rest of us.

There are many intriguing questions, some of which may never be answered and others that may be answered by events in the near future:

O What is Ahmadinejad's relationship with Supreme Leader Khamene`i? Khamene`i initially appeared to favor Ali Larijani (former head of radio & TV), who made a very poor showing despite a lot of favorable media coverage -- so much for the theory that the election was decided by TV alone. There are conflicting theories: (1) that the Ahmadinejad election was in fact a popular vote against Khamene`i and the clerical regime and is a sign that the regime is about to fall (I regard this as wishful thinking to the max); and (2) Ahmadinejad was really Khamene`i's man from the start and Khamene`i was just fiendishly clever in springing him as a surprise (I regard this a typical post-hoc conspiracy theory and worthless); or (3) the relationship is complex and we don't really understand it (this is probably true but doesn't help us much). Whatever the past, it is very likely, it seems to me, that Khamene`i will now adopt Ahmadinejad with enthusiasm and make the most of the opportunity.

O Khamene`i also appeared genuinely annoyed that Rafsanjani decided to run, probably because Rafsanjani might reemerge as more of a rival than he already was. So if Khamene`i actually conspired at the end to insure Ahmadinejad's election, that might be a partial explanation of why he acted.

O Who will be the new foreign minister? Perhaps more important, will Ahmadinejad reach deep into the largely technocratic staff of the foreign ministry and replace them with his own people (whoever they may be)? If so, this could be a real setback and could return Iran to the bad old days of a foreign policy dominated more by ideology that pragmatism.

O The same question about other branches of the government, particularly in sectors such as banking, finance and oil, which will shape the climate for foreign investment. I would be amazed to learn that any major foreign corporation would be willing to undertake any major new projects until a lot of this dust has settled.

O Since Ahmadinejad is now even more indebted to the Revolutionary Guards, will they come to play an even more prominent role in the new government than they have in the recent past? Specifically, given the Revolutionary Guards' past role in creating and supporting Hezbollah and its apparent willingness in the past to pursue a "foreign policy" independent of the formal government, including suggestions of questionable free-lance operations, what will this mean for Iran's official foreign policy and for the trend away from such rogue activities over the past ten years or so? Any return to the policies of subversion and active export of the revolution will impair relations not only with the United States but with Europe, states around the Persian Gulf, and other countries.

O As a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, and as an enthusiastic supporter of the Revolutionary Guards, what sort of policies will Ahmadinejad promote toward Iraq? A more interventionist policy could lead to direct conflict with the United States.

O It is true that foreign and security policy is a collective decision, not the sole prerogative of the president. However, we have seen over the past eight years what a tremendous influence President Khatami, for all his alleged failings, was able to exert over Iran's international relations. The conservatives have acquiesced, but it was Khatami's leadership that drove the process. The continuation of that process is now in real doubt.

O The European negotiators are due to present a "final" offer of economic incentives to Iran in July, in return for firm nuclear commitments, particularly on enrichment. This was always problematic at best, but it will present the first opportunity for Ahmadinejad to be heard on a major issue of international importance.

Various "explanations" of the election and its implications, as usual reflect more on the views of those doing the explaining than on reality. We hear that: (1) Ahmadinejad and company will not dare change or withdraw the social freedoms that have been so hard won over the past decade; (2) that this was a rejection of the Iranian Islamic system that will hasten the counter revolution; (3) that the election will lead to more direct U.S. assistance and support for the opposition -- especially in Los Angeles; (4) the election removed a troublesome friendly face that masked an underlying evil regime, as thus will make it easier to deal realistically with the clerical regime without illusions; (5) the new regime will create a mess that will demonstrate to everyone the unworkability of the Islamic Republic; and (6) having a hardliner in power may facilitate the possibility of a "Nixon-to-China" scenario that opens up new relations between the United States and Iran. I think there is probably at least a grain of truth in all of these -- and others that I may have overlooked -- but I wouldn't place a lot of faith in any of them.

I agree with [...] that it is too early to make firm judgments. New governments have the capacity to surprise us -- perhaps as much as the outcome of the election itself.

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: ahmadi; ahmadinejad; americahaters; american; bush; bushhaters; change; clinton; conservative; conspiracytheories; garysick; hardline; iran; iranain; iraq; islam; kooks; mideast; military; nsc; octobersurprise; rats; reform; regime; tehran; terrorism; usa; war

1 posted on 06/30/2005 1:36:30 PM PDT by F14 Pilot
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To: F14 Pilot
The comparison with the George W Bush political phenomenon in the US is very useful

A polite way of saying "The GOP is the Taliban."

2 posted on 06/30/2005 1:39:57 PM PDT by My2Cents ("In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." - George Orwell)
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To: F14 Pilot

Sounds like the guy is a national socialist... No, I will not use the more extreme name for it, but there it is.

3 posted on 06/30/2005 2:01:12 PM PDT by GoLightly
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To: F14 Pilot

Mr.Sick is aptly yclept

4 posted on 06/30/2005 2:14:28 PM PDT by Armigerous ( Non permitte illegitimi te carborundum- "Don't let the bastards grind you down")
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To: GoLightly
Wasn't Mr. Sick the nutcase with the SR-71 theory of how Reagan/Bush conspired with the Iranians to cheat
Jimmuh Carter out of the 1980 election victory?
5 posted on 06/30/2005 2:21:09 PM PDT by Calvin Locke
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To: F14 Pilot the Iran election was fair to begin with...

6 posted on 06/30/2005 2:39:35 PM PDT by 38special (...please.)
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To: Calvin Locke

Yep. Another DemoRat nut job!

7 posted on 06/30/2005 2:41:01 PM PDT by The South Texan (The Democrat Party and the leftist (ABCCBSNBCCNN NYLATIMES)media are a criminal enterprise!)
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To: F14 Pilot
Gary Sick is a left wing moon bat nut job.

During the Iran Contra witch hunt by the Democrats, Gary Sick came out with a book claiming there was an "October Surprise" by which then Presidential candidate Reagan made a deal with the Iranians to release the hostages on the first day he took office in January.

At first, Sick said that Vice President Bush went to Iran for secret negotiations. When it was proven that Bush was thousands of miles away on the date Sick claimed (and it was on camera before the world media), Sick said that Bush was flown secretly on an SR-71 spy plane traveling at Mach 4 (or warp factor 9, I can't remember which fantasy Sick made up) to bridge the impossible distance.

8 posted on 06/30/2005 3:01:09 PM PDT by SkyPilot (Eliminate, eradicate, and stamp out redundancy!)
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To: Calvin Locke; SkyPilot

I didn't know or remember who was behind that claim, but see SSkyPilot's post #8.

9 posted on 06/30/2005 3:41:09 PM PDT by GoLightly
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To: GoLightly
Oh yeah, he was indeed the "October Surprise" moonbat.

They don't call that guy Sick for nothing.

10 posted on 06/30/2005 8:13:44 PM PDT by TheMole
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