New Conservative Line: Iran’s President Doesn’t Matter!

As Dana Goldstein indicates, the newly minted conservative position on Iran is that, regardless of all the time and effort they’ve spent over the last four years setting up Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the new Hitler, it really doesn’t matter who the president of Iran is, because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is in charge. In the event that Ahmadinejad is defeated at the polls, expect a landslide of conservatives making this argument. I suspect that even John McCain — who famously refused to hear anything about it last year — will suddenly magically discover that the Supreme Leader is actually the supreme leader.

For example, check Daniel Pipes’s new line. Back in 2006, Pipes ominously warned of “The Mystical Menace of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad”:

[T]he most dangerous leaders in modern history are those (such as Hitler) equipped with a totalitarian ideology and a mystical belief in their own mission. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fulfills both these criteria.

Last week, however, speaking at a Heritage Foundation event, Pipes stated that “the president of Iran, despite his title, is not the final arbiter in [national security] matters.”

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.

As Daniel Luban reported, Pipes was at least forthright enough to admit that, were he a registered voter in Iran, he would “vote for Ahmadinejad…I would prefer to have an enemy who is forthright and blatant and obvious.” Interestingly, Pipes’ thinking neatly mirrors the thinking of extremists elsewhere, such as the contributor to an Al Qaeda-linked website who declared that “Al-Qaeda will have to support [Sen. John] McCain in the coming election,” as McCain would be more likely to continue the policies of George W. Bush, which produced a propaganda and recruiting bonanza for the terrorists.


Pipes also flatly insisted that “when it comes to building a nuclear weapon…there is a wide consensus in the Iranian leadership that building these weapons is something that is desirableand there is no known dissent from that viewpoint .”

This is untrue. There is in fact rather well known dissent from that viewpoint — in the form of a 2003 fatwa (religious-legal decree) issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei which declared that Islam forbids the development and use of all weapons of mass destruction. It’s true that later statements and actions have called this position into question, but it’s flatly false to suggest that there is “no dissent” among the Iranian clerical leadership regarding the production and use of nuclear weapons.

Interestingly, the event at which Pipes spoke was called “New Thinking for Old Problems.” The old problem, I take it, being “how to gin up a war with Iran,” and the new thinking being “insist that a reformist electoral victory will be meaningless.” Of course, if Ahmadinejad wins, he’ll still be the new Hitler and the presidency will once again matter a lot.