New York Opponents of taking a tough line on Iran have always claimed that imposing sanctions (not to mention threatening military action) would strengthen the Islamic Republic's most radical elements. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice looks to have bought that argument. Last week, she agreed to water down the new sanctions that her advisers had devised against the Islamic Republic.
Waving an olive branch, Rice also called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute over Tehran's illicit nuclear ambitions.
Nearly all the denied applicants belong to the 21 groups designated by Western observers as "reformist" .
Events inside Iran, however, provide a different picture. The Council of the Guardians of the Constitution, a 12-man committee of mollahs and their legal advisers, this week rejected applications from nearly 4,000 men and women to run in the March 14 general election. Nearly all the denied applicants belong to the 21 groups designated by Western observers as "reformist" opponents of the ultra-radical President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The list of the rejected reads like a Who's-Who of politicians regarded by many in the West as "moderates" who would put the regime on a less confrontational trajectory.
It includes individuals who served under Presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, as well as scores of former members of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majles), the 290-seat ersatz parliament set up by Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini in 1980.
In what looks like a massive purge, a total of 103 members of the present Majles, all critics of Ahmadinejad, were also declared "unfit" for re-election.
To be sure, the so-called reformists have never proposed any reform program as such. Rafsanjani spent most of his eight years as president building his business empire; Khatami spent his tenure traveling the world and building his image as an amateur philosopher working for "a dialogue of civilizations".
More regime opponents were killed or thrown into prison under Rafsanjani and Khatami than under Ahmadinejad. And both "reformers" tried to export the Khomeinist revolution via agents and clients in many Muslim countries, especially in the Middle East.
During his eight years in office, former president Mohammad Khatami was not able to implement major points of his promised reforms
Indeed, both also used the trick of excluding opponents from electoral lists. In 2004, when Khatami was president, more than two-thirds of applicants were blacklisted.
What differentiated the two men from Ahmadinejad was their penchant for taqiyeh (dissimulation) - an old trick of the mullahs who have turned speaking with a forked tongue into fine art.
Ahmadinejad, by contrast, shuns taqiyeh. What is on his tongue comes from his heart. He firmly believes that his brand of Islam stands on the threshold of victory against a corrupt, weak, fat and cowardly West led by a deeply divided United States.
The West's soft line so far has persuaded many Iranians that Ahmadinejad may be right after all. Far from benefiting the so-called moderates, the cuddly policy (preached by the likes of European Union foreign-policy czar Javier Solana) has strengthened the Ahmadinejad-led radicals. After all, the man is thumbing his nose at all the great powers and superpowers - and getting away with it. Why abandon a winner and side with people who've always looked like losers?
Having captured the presidency and the Council of Ministers that goes with it, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is now determined to storm other centers of power, starting with the Majles. It has put one of its own, Gen. Alireza Afshar, in charge of organizing the elections, with other Guard officers heading electoral commissions across the country.
"Until recently they just wanted a majority", says Nasser Abdallahzadeh, one of the rejected hopefuls. "Now they want every single seat."
Ahmadinejad firmly believes that his brand of Islam stands on the threshold of victory against a corrupt, weak, fat and cowardly West .
Even then, Ahmadinejad has taken care to reduce the powers of the Majles. In a letter published last week, he told the speaker of the Majles that the ersatz parliament has no authority to force the government to change its policies. That is, that it's there simply to rubber-stamp the executive's every decision.
The speaker, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, found the letter so insulting that he complained to his father-in-law, "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenehei. After several days of hesitation, Khamenehei responded with a letter that sounded like a mild rebuke for Ahmadinejad and a vague assertion of the rights of the Majles.
But even that was too much for Ahmadinejad, who responded by saying that such epistolary exercises wouldn't affect his government. "The government will continue doing what is best for Islam," he asserted.
What will the so-called moderates and reformists do now that they have little chance of gaining a foothold in the Majles? The decent response would be a boycott of an exercise that no longer has any real sense. Why vote in an election, when the winners have already been chosen in the shady corridors of power?
The trouble is that the "moderates" and "reformists" of the Khomeinist camp lack the courage of their pretensions. They resemble the happy cuckold who remains faithful to his marriage bond under all circumstances.
This is how Mohammad-Reza Aref, a former "first assistant president" under Khatami and now the principal spokesman of the "reformists" has reacted to his own blacklisting and that of virtually all his associates: "We might decide not to field any candidates," he said. "But we shall not call for a boycott of the elections, because we do not wish to harm the regime. We want the people to vote knowing that we have no candidates. In this way, everyone would know that we are not responsible for things. We will protest, but won't make a big noise."
Aref, Rafsanjani, Khatami: These are the guys that Rice, hoodwinked by her advisers, seems to be banking on to bring the Islamic Republic back to reason. With enemies like that, Ahmadinejad needs no friends. ENDS US SUPPORT 27108
Editor’s note: Mr. Amir Taheri is a leading Iranian journalist, commentator, political analyst and author, writing for many international media.
This article was published by The New York Post on 26 January 2008
Highlights are by IPS