Neocons Claim Iranian Elections Don’t Matter

Yesterday, the American Prospect’s Dana Goldstein noted that the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), despite warning of the dangers of an Iran led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are now suggesting that his possible ouster in today’s elections in Iran will not have any impact on how the Iranian government approaches relations with the West. Goldstein characterized AIPAC’s message this way: “If you are concerned about the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program, the argument goes, it doesn’t matter whether Ahmadinejad wins or loses.”

As the Wonk Room’s Matt Duss and HuffPost’s Rachel Weiner have noted, AIPAC’s read on the Iranian elections is nearly identical to that of the broader neo-conservative community:

Daniel Pipes: “The president tends to have power in the areas — in the soft areas — having to do with culture and religion and education. And it is the Rahbare, the Supreme Guide of Iran, Khomeini at first and now Khamenei who has control of the military, the law enforcement, the judiciary system, the intelligence agencies. So its not clear that the president matters that much.” [Heritage Foundation Panel, 6/03/09]

Michael Rubin: “[S]hould someone more soft-spoken and less defiant [than Ahmadinejad] — someone like former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi — win, it would be easier for Obama to believe that Iran really was figuratively unclenching a fist when, in fact, it had it had its other hand hidden under its cloak, grasping a dagger.” [National Review, 06/11/09]

Elliot Abrams: “In fact, a victory by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s main challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi, is more likely to change Western policy toward Iran than to change Iran’s own conduct.” [New York Times, 06/12/09]

In apparent confirmation that such sentiments have now become neoconservative dogma, John Bolton echoed them on Fox News this morning. Bolton — who has long demonized Ahmadinejad as a significant threat to U.S. national security — argued to Fox’s Bill Hemmer that an Ahmadinejad defeat would not change Iran’s foreign policy because such issues are handled by the Iran’s religious leaders:

HEMMER: It doesn’t matter who wins then, based on what you’re telling us.

BOLTON: In terms of foreign policy. People like to joke this dispute between moderates and hard liners is that you have Ahmadinejad who tells people that he’s proceeding with the nuclear program and plans to wipe Israel off the map, or whether you have a moderate who proceeds with the nuclear program but is smart enough to keep his mouth shut.

Watch it:

In fact, it would be significant for the Iranian people to reject the radical politics and hard-line policies of Ahmadinejad. As Duss explains, the clerical leadership does not appear to be as interested in pursuing nuclear weapons as Ahmadinejad appears to be. Goldstein adds, “The thing to remember is that despite buzz to the contrary, there are key foreign policy differences between Ahmadinejad, who does not support international talks regarding the Iranian nuclear program, and Mousavi, who does.”


Laura Rozen agrees, writing that “the voting out of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would undoubtedly be seen in Washington and the West as a welcome sign that the Iranian public supports greater liberalization and a less hostile attitude toward the West.” Indeed, even if Ahmadinejad’s main challenger, Mousavi, loses, the campaign demonstrates that “there’s clearly a lot of popular disconnect with Ahmadinejad’s rule, and a lot of it centers around his bizarrely self-defeating approach to foreign policy,” Stephen Walt concludes.