Leadership: Messing With Iranian Delusions


December 17, 2007: The recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), that indicated Iran has given up trying to build nuclear weapons, is likely to have some interesting fallout. Iran's president Ahmadinejad has been crowing about how he's now won a great victory. But as long as the U.S. and other powers were upset about Iran's nuclear ambitions, Ahmadinejad had a cause which he could use to rally popular support against foreign attempts to interfere in his country's "right" to develop and use nuclear power.

With that issue gone, Ahmadinejad, already having problems with the country's conservative religious leadership and its liberal, generally pro-Western middle class and academic community, over his adventurism, inept economic management, radical policies, and increasing curbs on civil liberties, no longer has a patriotic stick with which to keep in line folks happy about the state of domestic politics in Iran. And there are a lot of these. Lots of religious conservatives voted for Ahmadinejad because he seemed to be against corruption, but it turned out his cronies were about as crooked as the previous bunch. Meanwhile, the middle class is seeing its standard of living decline, while university faculties and students are increasingly unhappy about curbs on academic freedom, and pretty much everyone except Ahmadinejad's staunchest henchmen are unhappy about increasing curbs on civil liberty.

It's interesting that within days of the NIE, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a "liberal" cleric who served as President of Iran in 1989-2007, and was elected Chairman of the Assembly of Experts, the senior religious authority in the country, made a public speech at a university condemning many of Ahmadinejad's policies, a thing that would not have occurred just a few weeks ago.

Ahmadinejad is probably not going to go away before his term in office expires, in 2009. And he still commands a surprisingly vigorous following among the religiously conservative peasantry, who form the backbone of the national militia (another cause for tension between him and the religious leadership). But if, in the absence of a foreign "threat" which he can use to rally jingoistic nationalism, he has to focus on domestic issues, his political influence will inevitably decline.


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