by Jasmin Ramsey and Jim Lobe
The election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president surprised many here, even though at least one expert perceptively argued, more than once, that it was a distinct possibility. What were the all-knowing basing their predictions on? Certainly not polls, which never showed Dennis Ross‘ declared frontrunner, Saeed Jalili, in the lead. It seems that people like Ross (who, remember, was Obama’s top Iran adviser for most of the President’s first term) fell for Jalili’s own campaign strategy aimed at making it appear that he was Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s preferred candidate and, as such, certain to win. To be sure, Iranian public opinion polls are often considered unreliable, but they aren’t necessarily entirely insignificant either, especially those conducted by well-known Iranian pollsters who’ve been arrested for releasing data that’s angered the authorities.
In any case, while serious analysts had already pointed out the importance of Iran’s swing vote and a potential centrist/reformist rallying behind one candidate (which is exactly what happened), the Washington Post declared with seemingly absolute confidence two days before the official vote began that, “Mr. Rouhani, who has emerged as the default candidate of Iran’s reformists, will not be allowed to win.”
Of course, the Post’s editorial writers, whose certainty on so many things Middle Eastern has become a hallmark of their page, were absolutely wrong. Rouhani did win, and by quite a large margin in a field of six. Iran reported that the 64-year-old cleric, known as the “diplomatic sheik“, garnered more than 50-percent of the vote — that’s 18.6 million votes of the 36,704,156 votes cast. But neither those high numbers nor the still-flowing images of Iranians celebrating throughout the country were enough to sway some Iran-focused analysts here, including the Post’s unchastened editorial writers, to withhold or at least restrain their dismissive reactions — not even this once. LobeLog alumnus Ali Gharib has examined some of this commentary, including from the influential sanctions-advocate, Mark Dubowitz (of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies), a long-time promoter of, among other things, “economic warfare” on Iran.
Dubowitz does not work alone. His FDD colleague Reuel Marc Gerecht, who co-authored an op-ed with Dubowitz in 2012 declaring that the real goal of the crippling sanctions and threats of war they have promoted (all the while insisting that they care deeply about the human rights of Iran) should be “regime change” (regardless of how violent it may be), is another go-to expert on Iran. He is the same man who argued from his perch at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) before and immediately after the invasion of Iraq that the liberation of the Shi’a majority there would constitute “a threat worse than Saddam Hussein” to the “ruling mullahs” in Tehran. The mullahs may still be laughing.
Gerecht, a former officer in the CIA’s clandestine service, prides himself on his purported expertise on Shia Islam and the various schools, hierarchies, and personalities that animate it — from Qom to Najaf and beyond. Which makes it even more surprising that this week he publicly mocked reports that Rouhani, a Shia cleric, had received a doctor of philosophy at a Scottish University. Of course, Rouhani actually does have a Scottish PhD. No matter.
And while we’re exposing some of these blatantly wrong assertions, someone may want to alert the Wall Street Journal that its profile of Rouhani by its assistant books editor, Sohrab Ahmari, actually leads with an highly tendentious — not to say false — accusation by Ahmari’s major source, Reza Mohajerinejad; to wit: “Hassan Rohani unleashed attacks on pro-democracy student protesters in 1999.” According to journalist Bahman Kalbasi:
The [Sohrab Amari] piece in the WSJ says:
Mr. Mohajerinejad recalled how after Mr. Rohani’s statement in 1999 security forces “poured into the dorm rooms and murdered students right in front of our eyes.”
As I recall, Rouhani’s speech came on the 23rd of the month of Tir in the Government-sponsored rally. The attack on the dorms came on the 18th of Tir and most of the protests happened in the 5 days in-between. I have confirmed this with a few Tahkim (main student body of the time) leaders. While there were arrests made after Rouhani’s speech (myself included) no one could recall any attack on the dorms after the 23rd of Tir. And certainly this is the first time I hear any of those being arrested were killed in front of anyone’s eyes. Again he may be talking about 18th of Tir, but that was 5 days before the speech by Rouhani not “after”.
This same article is being quoted all over the place by the neoconservative echo chamber as the must-read profile on Rouhani. The AEI’s Michael Rubin calls it the “best summary of Rouhani’s rise and record”. In an interview with the National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, Rubin, an erstwhile champion of confidence man supremo and possible Iranian agent Ahmad Chalabi, also declared that describing Rouhani as “a moderate would be like calling Attila the Hun a moderate because he reduced prison overcrowding and was, relatively speaking, to the left of Genghis Khan.” This is what passes for Iran expertise in Washington, D.C.
The question all this raises is whether being proven totally wrong about your facts, predictions, and assessments of character (such as the Post’s editorial board on Rouhani’s election chances; Gerecht on the impact of Iraqi Shi’a liberation on Iran and on advanced degrees of key Iranian leaders; Rubin on Chalabi and historical similes) might inspire even a little humility? Or at least a willingness to reexamine your own guiding assumptions and prejudices before spouting off yet again?
Evidently not for Gerecht, Congress, or the Washington Post editorial writers, who followed up their utterly embarrassing prediction with the excuse that they simply hadn’t anticipated just how cunning those Iranian mullahs really are! In Rouhani (“a reliable follower of the supreme leader”), according to the Post, Khamenei has a “moderate face” that will be used to lull the West into making dangerous compromises on Iran’s nuclear program. Everything now makes sense. Khamenei continues to be in complete control. There’s no need to revise our assessment. We understand Iranian politics — and what’s best for its people — perfectly.