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Damaged Democracy

New York – Even before the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, decided to throttle what little legitimacy was left of Iran’s “managed democracy,” it was a peculiar system, indeed. Although Iranian citizens had the right to elect their president, the candidates had to be vetted by the Council of Guardians, half of whom were picked by the unelected Supreme Leader.

The only candidates allowed to run were men with impeccable religious credentials, loyal to a regime whose most important decisions are made by unelected clerics. Mir-Hossein Mousavi, chosen by the late Ayatollah Khomeini to be prime minister in 1981, was such a figure.

Mousavi ran as a reformist who said he would strive for greater freedom of the press, more rights for women, and fewer restrictions on the private lives of Iranians. He also hinted at more flexibility in negotiations with the United States.

Yet Mousavi’s defeat by the hardliner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in what looked like a rigged electoral process, was greeted by some neo-conservatives in the US with relief. One prominent commentator, Max Boot, took “some small degree of satisfaction from the outcome of Iran’s elections,” because Obama would now find it harder to stand in the way of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear installations. Since Iran is the enemy (remember George W. Bush’s “axis of evil”?), it is better to deal with a president who talks and acts like a crazy thug, than with a reasonable-sounding figure who promises reforms.