by Daniel Luban
At Wednesday’s Heritage Foundation conference on the Middle East peace process (which, as I wrote yesterday, was primarily devoted to pushing the almost-universally-scorned “three-state solution” for Israel-Palestine), Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes made an unusually revealing comment while discussing Iran’s upcoming presidential elections.
“I’m sometimes asked who I would vote for if I were enfranchised in this election, and I think that, with due hesitance, I would vote for Ahmadinejad,” Pipes said. The reason, Pipes went on, is that he would “prefer to have an enemy who’s forthright and obvious, who wakes people up with his outlandish statements.” (Video of the event is available by following the link to the Heritage website; Pipes’s comments come at about the 1:29:00 mark.)
Although it is rather remarkable to see a prominent neoconservative admit this in public, it’s clear that many Iran hawks in America and Israel are similarly hoping for an Ahmadinejad victory next week. After all, the Iranian president’s outlandish statements have been a propaganda gold mine for those pushing military action against Tehran, and no warmongering op-ed would be complete without a ritualistic invocation of his (mistranslated) call to “wipe Israel off the map”. At last month’s AIPAC conference, Ahmadinejad was the undisputed star of the show; large glossy photos of him touring nuclear facilities in a lab coat were distributed to every conference-goer, and the largely geriatric audience was bludgeoned into a state of terror with constant juxtapositions of Hitler and Ahmadinejad, Auschwitz and Natanz. An alien who descended on the conference might be forgiven for thinking that Ahmadinejad was president of Israel or the U.S. rather than Iran, since he was far more discussed and displayed than Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, or Barack Obama.
Given Ahmadinejad’s usefulness as a propaganda tool, it is not surprising that the Iran hawks would be eager to hold on to him. A more moderate president would threaten to puncture the hysterical and apocalyptic atmosphere in which discussion of the Iranian nuclear program is currently conducted. (Also of related interest is the right’s angry reaction to the release of Roxana Saberi — on display, for example, in this James Kirchick monologue. From the hawks’ perspective, of course, the ideal outcome politically speaking would have been for Iran to execute Saberi, preferably in the most brutal and medieval fashion possible.)
Now that it seems possible that Ahmadinejad might lose, however, the same people who spent the last four years obsessively focusing on the Iranian president’s every utterance have suddenly discovered that the Iranian presidency doesn’t matter after all. In the same discussion at Heritage, Pipes reminded the audience that it is Supreme Leader Khamenei rather than the president who controls foreign affairs and military policy. Similarly, AIPAC is now pushing the line that Iran’s elections will not affect their nuclear policy. While it is perfectly true that the Iranian president has little control over foreign policy, it would have been nice to see some acknowledgement of this from the Iran hawks prior to the elections, instead of constant harping about the “existential threat” that the dastardly Ahmadinejad poses to Israel and the U.S.
UPDATE: Trita Parsi’s latest article is also of interest here. Parsi details how U.S. congressional leaders have fast-tracked the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2009 — a move that is likely to bolster Ahmadinejad and undercut Moussavi in the days before the election. Is this the intended effect? Given the list of cosponsors (including such familiar names as Eric Cantor, Mark Kirk, and Shelley Berkley), it seems more than likely.