Iranian Elections Pose Questions

May 23, 2017 Updated: May 23, 2017

The lesser of two evils is still…evil.

Make no bones about it. (Re)elected President Hassan Rouhani is a “moderate” only in Iran’s distorted political spectrum. Indeed, it is akin to measuring virtue among denizens in a whore house.

Nevertheless, winning by 57 to 38 percent in a four-candidate race is a decisive victory.

Indeed, the distortions of the just-completed presidential election illustrate its singularly undemocratic nature. Following is a brief description of the process extracted from an Atlantic article by Haleh Esfandiari:

“Originally, six candidates were approved by the Council of Guardians, a body composed of six senior clerics named by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, and six laymen (who must also be experts in Islamic law) selected by the Majlis, or parliament. The council is empowered to decide who will be allowed to run and who will be barred from running. Of the six approved by the council, Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a conservative and hardliner like Raisi, stepped down … in favor of Raisi. The[n] Vice President Is-haq Jahangiri, like Rouhani a moderate and an advocate of reform, withdrew and endorsed Rouhani. (Two other candidates, Mostafa Agha Mirsalim, former minister of culture and a conservative, and Mostafa Hashemi-Taba, reformist close to former president Mohammad Khatami, [we]re not considered serious contenders.)”

Newly re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a televised speech in the capital Tehran on May 20, 2017. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
Newly re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a televised speech in the capital Tehran on May 20, 2017. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

The council disqualified a number of candidates including former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; it has never permitted a woman to run for president.

As the incumbent, Rouhani enjoyed considerable advantage. No Iranian president since 1981 has been denied a second term, and he could run on the traditional slogan of “peace, prosperity, and progress.” And, indeed, the slogan reflects (minimally) Iranian reality.

“Peace” has been enhanced by the Nuclear Treaty which, for all of the U.S./Trumpian demurs, has mitigated prospects for near term kinetic action by Israel and other hostile states determined to prevent development of Iranian nukes.

“Prosperity,” According to Al Jazeera reporting, has dropped inflation to 6.5 percent from 40 percent in 2013 with a 12.5 percent growth increase during Rouhani’s tenure. Major international companies are eager to engage in areas such as oil development and aircraft sales.

Rouhani has no control over the ministries of information, intelligence, and foreign affairs, where Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has final say on appointments. Moreover, he doesn’t control national broadcasting services and has little authority over military and security agencies.

Foreign military operations are the prerogative of the Revolutionary Guards and particularly the elite Quds Force, which report directly to the supreme leader. Executions and political prisoners rose under his tenure.

His principal opponent, Ebrahim Raisi, was described as a “hard-line” cleric and judge. Allegedly he was involved in the 1988 mass execution of thousands of prisoners. Reportedly, he is also the favorite of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and bruited about as Khamenei’s successor. During the campaign, he belabored Rouhani for failing to leverage the Nuclear Agreement for greater growth (and lowering still high unemployment).

We are likely to hear more of him in the out years.

Existentially, Iran’s political establishment views the United States as THE GREAT SATAN—all capital letters—and dates its antipathy to Washington from1953 U.S. machinations overthrowing the Western-hostile regime of Mohammad Mosaddeg. Thus those that deal with the U.S. government had better use the proverbial “long spoon” when dealing with the devil, and the Nuclear Treaty is viewed with as much suspicion in Tehran as in Washington.

The United States reciprocates. We have never forgotten seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 following our humanitarian sanctuary for the deposed/despised Shah, who was in final stages of dying of cancer. This was followed by the specter of “America Held Hostage” throughout the Carter administration’s last year to include the catastrophic failure/debacle of a potential rescue mission in the Iranian desert.

Thus, we have been without state-to-state relations for 37 years, which is longer than our break in diplomatic relations with Beijing (1949-72). Nor is there any expectation that the Trump administration will be sending an ambassador in the foreseeable future.

For its duration, the Nuclear Treaty has kicked the nuclear can down the road. There is the (perhaps vain) hope Tehran will permanently back away from procuring nuclear weapons. Its continuing development of nuclear capable missiles suggests to the contrary.

Meanwhile, Iran will continue under Rouhani as a vicious abuser of human rights, a regional military threat, and provide flash points for confrontation with U.S. Persian Gulf forces.  

Along with Pyongyang, a dual “axis of evil” persists.

David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.” 

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

David T. Jones
David T. Jones