Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ahmadinejad's best friends

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Let's move away from American coverage of U.S.-Iranian relations and the ongoing problem of Iran's involvement in Iraq. (Articles up at The Washington Post right now include one on Bush saying he'll do "whatever it takes" (whatever that means -- go ahead and speculate) to repel Iranian engagement in Iraq; one on Iran's growing influence in Iraq (with Iraqi support); one on Arab states blaming the U.S. for Iranian ascendance in the Middle East; and another one on Bush's warnings to Iran. And so on.)

What's really going on in Iran? If President Ahmadinejad is the problem, or a big part of it, what is his future? What is Iran's future course more generally? Will it continue to influence events in Iraq as it seems to be doing now (although Bush and the warmongers are almost certainly exaggerating the problem)? Will it continue to develop its nuclear program (and, eventually, nuclear weapons) even in the face of widespread international condemnation? Will it continue to seek a greater role in the Middle East, to become a true regional power?

At The Guardian, Ali Ansari, the director of the Iranian Institute at the University of St. Andrews, notes that Ahmadinejad's popularity is in decline. And so is his support at the top. He has suffered "an unprecedented rebuke from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei -- reflecting growing concerns among the political elite, including many conservatives, who are increasingly anxious at Iran's worsening international situation." He has become "intoxicated with the prerogatives of his office, neglected his populist campaign platform, and "failed to consolidate and extend his political base". There's even been talk of impeachment!

Good news, then, right? Er, maybe not. What's keeping Ahmadinejad in power is the very international crisis of which he has been a major cause. As long as the U.S. talks tough and threatens Iran with "whatever it takes" rhetoric -- and not just to kick Iran out of Iraq but to destroy its nuclear program and perhaps even to pursue regime change -- Ahmadinejad is likely safe: "As domestic difficulties mount, the emerging international crisis could at best serve as a rallying point, or at worst persuade Iran's elite that a change of guard would convey weakness to the outside world."

Yes, "while Ahmadinejad has been his own worst enemy, the US hawks [i.e., Bush, Cheney, and the neocons, inter alia] are his best friends".

Which means that Bush and Ahmadinejad, bitter enemies though they may seem to be, are actually reinforcing each other. While Bush is playing the Iran card, Ahmadinejad is playing the America card. Both are creating the impression that there is a greater threat than there actually is. Bush is doing it as he struggles for popularity; Ahmadinejad is doing it as he clings to power. Two sides of the same coin, both are playing the old political game of pumping up the enemy for personal gain.

Dare I mention that this is precisely what Hitler and Stalin did?

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