"It doesn't help that the Obama administration hasn't announced an end to the covert operations that the Bush administration was carrying out within Iran."
Published on Sunday, June 28, 2009 by Center for Economic and Policy Research
Was the Iranian Election Stolen? Does It Matter?
by Mark Weisbrot
Since the Iranian presidential election of June 12, allegations that the announced winner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory was stolen have played an important role in the demonstrations, political conflict, and media reporting on events there. Some say that it does not matter whether the elections were stolen or not, since the government has responded to peaceful protests with violence and arrests. These actions are indeed abhorrent and inexcusable, and the world's outrage is justified. So, too, is the widespread concern for the civil liberties of Iranians who have chosen to exercise their rights to peacefully protest.
At the same time, the issue of whether the election was stolen will remain relevant, both to our understanding of the situation and to U.S.-Iranian relations, for reasons explained below. It is therefore worth looking at whether this allegation is plausible.
According to the official election results, the incumbent president Ahmadinejad won the election by a margin of 63 percent to 34 percent for his main competitor, Mir Hossein Mousavi. This is a difference of approximately 11.3 million votes. Any claim of victory for Mousavi must therefore contain some logically coherent story of how at least 5.65 million votes (one half of the 11.3 million margin) might have been stolen.
This implies looking at the electoral procedures. There were approximately 45,000 polling locations with ballot boxes, not including mobile units. If these ballot boxes were collected by a central authority and taken away to a central location, and counted (or not counted) behind closed doors, this would be consistent with an allegation of massive vote theft.
However, this does not appear to be the case. After searching through thousands of news articles without finding any substantive information on the electoral process, I contacted Seyed Mohammad Marandi, who heads the North American Studies department at the University of Teheran. He described the electoral procedures to me, and together we interviewed, by phone, Sayed Moujtaba Davoodi, a poll worker who participated in the June 12 election in region 13 (of 22 regions) in Tehran. Mr. Daboodi has worked in elections for the past 16 years. The following is from their description of the procedures.
According to their account, there are 14 people working at each polling place, in addition to an observer representing each candidate. Most polling places are schools or mosques; if the polling place is a school then the team of 14 people would include teachers. There are 2-4 representatives of the Guardian Council, and 2 from the local police. After the last votes are cast, the ballots are counted in the presence of the 14 people plus the candidates' representatives. All of them sign five documents that contain the vote totals. One of the documents goes into the ballot box; one stays with the leader of the local election team; and the others go to other levels of the electoral administration, including the Guardian Council and the Interior.
The vote totals are then sent to a local center that also has representatives of the Guardian Council, Interior, and the candidates. They add up the figures from a number of ballot boxes, and then send them to Interior. In this election, the numbers were also sent directly to Interior from the individual polling places, in the presence of the 14-18 witnesses at the ballot box.
Each voter presents identification, and his or her name and information is entered into a computer, and also recorded in writing. The voter's thumbprint is also put on the stub of the ballot. The voter's identification is stamped to prevent multiple voting at different voting places, and there is also a computer and written record of everyone who voted at each polling place.
If this information is near accurate, it would appear that large scale fraud is extremely difficult, if not impossible, without creating an extensive trail of evidence. Indeed, if this election was stolen, there must be tens of thousands of witnesses -- or perhaps hundreds of thousands - to the theft. Yet there are no media accounts of interviews with such witnesses.
Is it possible that, in most of the country, the procedures outlined above - followed in previous elections - were abruptly abandoned, with ballot boxes whisked away before anyone could count them at the precinct level? Again, many of the more than 700,000 people involved in the electoral process would have been witnesses to such a large-scale event. Given the courage that hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated in taking to the streets, we would expect at least some to come forward with information on what happened.
Rostam Pourzal, an Iranian-American human rights campaigner, told me that it is common knowledge in Iran that these are the election procedures and that they were generally followed in this election. Professor Marandi concurred, and added: "There's just no way that any large-scale or systematic fraud could have taken place."
The government has agreed to post the individual ballot box totals on the web. This would provide another opportunity for any of the hundreds of thousands of witnesses to the precinct-level vote count to say that they witnessed a different count, if any did so.
A number of other arguments have been put forward that the vote must have been rigged. Most of them have been refuted. For example, the idea that the results were announced too quickly: How long does it take to count 500-800 ballots at a polling place, with only the presidential candidates on the ballot? It could easily be done within the time that it took, as it was in 2005.
The New York Times' front page story on Tuesday, June 23 begins with this sentence: "Iran's most powerful oversight council announced on Monday that the number of votes recorded in 50 cities exceeded the number of eligible voters there by three million, further tarnishing a presidential election..." This was widely interpreted as the government admitting to some three million fraudulent votes.
Here is the Guardian Council's statement, from their web site:
"Candidates campaigns have said that in 80-170 towns and cities, more people have voted than are eligible voters. We have determined, based on preliminary studies, that there are only about 50 such cities or towns... The total number of votes in these cities or towns is something close to three million; therefore, even if we were to throw away all of these votes, it would not change the result."
The letter from the Guardian Council also offers a number of reasons that a city or town can have a vote total that exceeds the number of eligible voters: some towns are weekend or vacation destinations, some voters are commuters, some districts are not demographically distinct entities, and Iranians can vote wherever they want (unlike in the United States, where they must vote at their local polling place). On the face of it, this does not appear implausible. Contrary to press reports, there is no admission from the Iranian government that any of these votes were fraudulent, nor has evidence of such fraud been made public.
The only independent poll we have, from the New America Foundation and conducted three weeks before the election, predicts the result that occurred. And a number of experts have presented plausible explanations for why Ahmadinejad could have won by a large margin.
Does it matter if the election was stolen? Certainly there are grounds for challenging the overall legitimacy of the electoral process, in which the government determines which candidates can compete, and the press and other institutions are constrained.
But from the point of view of promoting more normal relations between the United States and Iran, avoiding a military conflict, and bringing stability to the region, the truth as to the more narrow question of whether the election was procedurally fraudulent may be relevant. If in fact the election was not stolen, and Washington (and Europe) pretend that it was, this can contribute to a worsening of relations. It will give further ammunition to hard-liners in Iran, who are portraying the whole uprising as a conspiracy organized by the West. (It doesn't help that the Obama administration hasn't announced an end to the covert operations that the Bush administration was carrying out within Iran). More importantly, it will boost hardliners here - including some in the Obama administration - who want to de-legitimize the government of Iran in order to avoid serious negotiations over its nuclear program. That is something that we should avoid, because a failure to seriously pursue negotiations now may lead to war in the future.
Copyright 2009 Center for Economic and Policy Research
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC.
3 posts in this topic.
"It doesn't help that the Obama administration hasn't announced an end to the covert operations that the Bush administration was carrying out within Iran."
Iran’s Rafsanjani – The Grey Eminence
June 26th, 2009
In Iranian politics, few loom larger that Hashemi Rafsanjani. Yet for whom does he work—really?
As chairman of the Assembly of Experts, he oversees the selection, monitoring and dismissal of Iran’s Supreme Leader. As Chair of the Expediency Council, he settles legislative conflicts. As President of Iran from 1989-1997, he created a power base dating back to his study of theology with Ayatollah Khomeini. But that was then; what about now?
To grasp his role in this “election” requires a reflection on whose interests are best served by crises in the region. Serial crises are essential to sustain the plausibility of the much-touted Clash of Civilizations as a means to justify a “global war on terrorism.” When Mahmoud Ahmadenijad won out over Rafsanjani in a 2005 bid for the presidency, the result was a spokesperson with little political power but a high-profile platform.
In today’s media-saturated politics, candidates are akin to brands. Soon after their release in the market, each is identified with a message. Ahmadenijad was quickly branded the world’s most famous anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. As the academics say: Quo bono—who benefits? Which nation gained most from that branding? Iran? Or Israel?
For an enclave dependent for support on branding itself the unwitting victim of a hostile, anti-Semitic world, who better to freshen up that brand? If so, what role does Rafsanjani play in a nation whose leaders have long collaborated with Israel in duplicitous operations?
Those operations, too numerous to describe, include the Israeli-enabled, presidency-discrediting Iran-Contra affair that Ronald Reagan denied and then was forced to admit. That clumsy arms-for-hostages exchange aided Iran in its war with Iraq, then a U.S. ally, and resulted in 11 federal convictions for Reagan-era officials. All were pardoned.
What role does Rafsanjani play in the casting for a real life drama that, if events continue on course, is poised to discredit another U.S. president? What we know is this. Ahmadinejad charged the Grey Eminence and his family with massive corruption, including racketeering, embezzlement and money laundering. That appears accurate. The Rafsanjani clan emerged wealthy beyond measure, including one son who is allegedly a billionaire in a nation long plagued with the ravages of poverty and false piety.
We also know that Rafsanjani (also known as “the shark”) financed the campaign of opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. As Prime Minister, Mousavi was Tehran’s go-between for Iran-Contra. He also reportedly served as Iran’s middleman for the October 1983 bombing in Beirut that killed 241 Marines.
The question remains: for whom was he a middleman—really? For the bombing, was he the go-between with Hezbollah terrorists blamed for the attack? That may well be true. Yet former Mossad case officer Victor Ostrovsky insists that Israeli intelligence had a complete description of the truck used in that attack—and chose not to alert their ally.
That mass murder prompted the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region, leaving the Middle East vulnerable to political manipulation by whatever nation proved most adept at the craft. Quo bono? Did Iran benefit from that bombing? Lebanon? Or Israel?
Any conclusions must remain conjectural until more is known about the role played by Israel and pro-Israelis in fixing the intelligence that induced the U.S. to invade Iraq. And may yet induce an attack on Iran aided by a well-timed crisis that may deter the direct negotiations that Washington proposed—and Tel Aviv opposed.
Readers of Guilt By Association know that analysis pivots off a person identified as “John Doe.” He encountered the Grey Eminence two decades ago while profiling the transnational criminal syndicate chronicled there. Rafsanjani was then selling an office building in Manhattan built by the Shah of Iran.
The top floors were occupied by arbitrageur Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken’s co-conspirator in securities frauds for which both were convicted. Boesky spent two years in Iran for purposes that remain obscure. Doe negotiated the sale with Pincus Green, the partner of Marc Rich who was then illegally trading oil with Iran—when Rafsanjani was president.
Rich’s defense team was led by Nixon White House counsel Leonard Garment and Lewis Libby who then worked in the Pentagon for Paul Wolfowitz in the G.H.W. Bush era. All four men are Ashkenazim. For G.W. Bush, Libby emerged as Chief of Staff for Vice President Dick Cheney when Wolfowitz, as Deputy Secretary of Defense, became a lead advocate for invading Iraq in response to the mass murder of 911.
In May 2007, Libby was found guilty on four federal charges for his attempts to obscure the fixing of intelligence that induced the invasion in pursuit of the expansionist goals for Greater Israel. The neoconservatives who advanced that agenda have since confirmed their primary target was—and remains—Iran.
History is best understood in hindsight. Yet where, as here, behavior patterns repeat over multiple decades, Americans who continue to put their faith in false friends may find themselves repeating past tragedies. To avoid future calamities, Iranians had best grasp that neither this election—nor the Grey Eminence—may be what they seem.
Must the U.S. Remain a Tool To Be Exploited by Other Nations?
June 24th, 2009
The election crisis in Iran began May 18th when President Obama granted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a White House press conference. From that high profile pulpit, this Likud Party leader announced that Iran was Israel’s top priority and that Israeli settlements would continue to expand despite U.S. objections.
By providing that opening to right-wing Israeli interests, Obama enabled a geopolitical manipulation that would not mature until a month later when a post-election crisis in Iran provided an opportunity to vilify Tehran while proceeding with the settlements.
The catalyst for this crisis was a social network “Twitter attack” in Iran that began June 13th, the day after the election. “IranElection” was the most popular keyword for tens of thousands of tweets, half of them featuring the same profile photo. Over 40% of the Twitter.com users came from the U.S., lending plausibility to the charge that this was not an Israeli but a U.S. operation meant to destabilize Iran by spreading charges of election fraud.
Mainstream media declined to mention that pre-election polling showed President Ahmadinejad a two-to-one favorite. Nor was there any reference to his opponent’s plans to privatize the oil and gas industry. Aware of how that path led to an entrenched oligarchy in Russia, it’s easy to see why mainstream Iranians rejected that future.
Asked about Tehran’s response to the protests, Netanyahu said “the true nature of this regime has been unmasked….this is a regime that oppresses its people.” The crisis also enabled him again to portray Iran’s nuclear program as “an international danger” that “should be dealt with by an international effort led by the United States.”
For those concerned at Israeli influence over U.S. foreign policy, Obama’s comment on June 23rd offered hope. In assessing this multi-front crisis, he noted that the U.S. “is not a tool to be exploited by other nations.”
If not Israel, what nation can exploit the U.S.—from the inside? What nation benefits from this crisis? If not Tel Aviv, what government has the means, motive, opportunity and stable nation state intelligence to conduct such operations?
If the U.S. is induced to invade Iran, no plausible outcome would be successful at preventing the conflict from spreading—lending plausibility to the widely touted Clash of Civilizations. Just as Israel seeks to delegitimize and vilify Iran, so too an attack on Iran would see the U.S. discredited and despised for allowing itself—yet again—to be exploited by Israel.
For Tehran to enrich uranium poses no threat to U.S. interests. President Kennedy saw the real threat. He sought in June 1963 to ensure that Israel did not develop nuclear weapons. His assassination brought to office a president with different priorities.
Citing an “existential threat” from Iran, a nuclear-armed Israel now deploys increasingly transparent efforts to exploit its “special relationship” with the U.S. to advance its interests. Yet war game strategists agree that an attack—any attack—would ignite a wave of anti-Americanism, further weakening us financially, militarily and diplomatically. That outcome is well known both in Washington and in Tel Aviv. These same pro-Israeli exploiters induced the U.S. to invade Iraq with the allure of a quick victory more than six years ago.
By June 23rd, Netanyahu was sufficiently emboldened to announce that even arguing about the settlements was “a waste of time.” Meanwhile Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave the green light for a settlement covering 212 acres of Palestinian farmland far from the main settlement blocs and several miles inside the West Bank.
While insisting “our hand is extended for peace,” Tel Aviv once again insisted on conditions certain to preclude peace. For veterans of this duplicity, this behavior is all too familiar. During the 1956 Sinai war, a captured Egyptian colonel conceded that his troops were put on high alert every time David Ben-Gurion insisted “our hands are extended for peace.”
To his credit, Obama has not—as yet—allowed himself to be drawn deeply into the fray in Iran. It’s unclear how much of the credit is due to a national security team familiar with how Tel Aviv exploits its allies to wage wars for Greater Israel. The Joint Chiefs may well stand united in their opposition, hardened by their experience with pro-Israelis who fixed the intelligence that induced our invasion of Iraq.
Barack Obama enabled this behavior by granting an Israeli leader a global platform. Is this ‘candidate of change’ advising Americans to no longer view Israel as an ally? That’s the change Tel Aviv most fears. Is he signaling what the facts confirm: Israel is neither friend nor ally but a deceiver and an enemy within? Is this president prepared to put a priority on holding accountable those who gave aid and comfort to these exploiters?
Published on Monday, June 29, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
Iran and Leftist Confusion
by Reese Erlich
When I returned from covering the Iranian elections recently, I was surprised to find my email box filled with progressive authors, academics and bloggers bending themselves into knots about the current crisis in Iran. They cite the long history of U.S. interference in Iran and conclude that the current unrest there must be sponsored or manipulated by the Empire.
That comes as quite a shock to those risking their lives daily on the streets of major Iranian cities fighting for political, social and economic justice.
Some of these authors have even cited my book, The Iran Agenda, as a source to prove U.S. meddling. Whoa there, pardner. Now we're getting personal.
The large majority of American people, particularly leftists and progressives, are sympathetic to the demonstrators in Iran, oppose Iranian government repression and also oppose any U.S. military or political interference in that country. But a small and vocal number of progressives are questioning that view, including authors writing for Monthly Review online, Foreign Policy Journal, and prominent academics such as retired professor James Petras.
They mostly argue by analogy. They correctly cite numerous examples of CIA efforts to overthrow governments, sometimes by manipulating mass demonstrations. But past practice is no proof that it's happening in this particular case. Frankly, the multi-class character of the most recent demonstrations, which arose quickly and spontaneously, were beyond the control of the reformist leaders in Iran, let alone the CIA.
Let's assume for the moment that the U.S. was trying to secretly manipulate the demonstrations for its own purposes. Did it succeed? Or were the protests reflecting 30 years of cumulative anger at a reactionary system that oppresses workers, women, and ethnic minorities, indeed the vast majority of Iranians? Is President Mahmood Ahmadinejad a "nationalist-populist," as claimed by some, and therefore an ally against U.S. domination around the world? Or is he a repressive, authoritarian leader who actually hurts the struggle against U.S. hegemony?
Let's take a look. But first a quick note.
As far as I can tell none of these leftist critics have actually visited Iran, at least not to report on the recent uprisings. Of course, one can have an opinion about a country without first-hand experience there. But in the case of recent events in Iran, it helps to have met people. It helps a lot.
The left-wing Doubting Thomas arguments fall into three broad categories.
1. Assertion: President Mahmood Ahmadinejad won the election, or at a minimum, the opposition hasn't proved otherwise.
Michael Veiluva, Counsel at the Western States Legal Foundation (representing his own views) wrote on the Monthly Review website:
"[U.S. peace groups] are quick to denounce the elections as ‘massively fraudulent' and generally subscribe to the ‘mad mullah' stereotype of the current political system in Iran. There is a remarkable convergence between the tone of these statements and the American right who are hypocritically beating their chests over Iran's ‘stolen' election.
Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, James Petras wrote:
"[N]ot a single shred of evidence in either written or observational form has been presented either before or a week after the vote count. During the entire electoral campaign, no credible (or even dubious) charge of voter tampering was raised."
Actually, Iranians themselves were very worried about election fraud prior to the vote count. When I covered the 2005 elections, Ahmadinejad barely edged out Mehdi Karoubi in the first round of elections. Karoubi raised substantive arguments that he was robbed of his place in the runoff due to vote fraud. But under Iran's clerical system, there's no meaningful appeal. So, as he put it, he took his case to God.
On the day of the 2009 election, election officials illegally barred many opposition observers from the polls. The opposition had planned to use text messaging to communicate local vote tallies to a central location. The government shut down SMS messaging! So the vote count was entirely dependent on a government tally by officials sympathetic to the incumbent.
I heard many anecdotal accounts of voting boxes arriving pre-stuffed and of more ballots being printed than are accounted for in the official registration numbers. It seems unlikely that the Iranian government will allow meaningful appeals or investigations into the various allegations about vote rigging.
A study by two professors at Chatham House and the Institute of Iranian Studies at University of St. Andrews, Scotland, took a close look at the official election results and found some major discrepancies. For Ahmadinejad to have sustained his massive victory in one third of Iran's provinces, he would have had to carry all his supporters, all new voters, all voters previously voting centrist and about 44% of previous reformist voters.
Keep in mind that Ahmadinejad's victory takes place in the context of a highly rigged system. The Guardian Council determines which candidates may run based on their Islamic qualifications. As a result, no woman has ever been allowed to campaign for president and sitting members of parliament were disqualified because they had somehow become un-Islamic.
The constitution of Iran created an authoritarian theocracy in which various elements of the ruling elite could fight out their differences, sometimes through elections and parliamentary debate, sometimes through violent repression. Iran is a classic example of how a country can have competitive elections without being democratic.
2. Assertion: The U.S. has a long history of meddling in Iran, so it must be behind the current unrest.
Jeremy R. Hammond writes in the progressive website Foreign Policy Journal:
"[G]iven the record of U.S. interference in the state affairs of Iran and clear policy of regime change, it certainly seems possible, even likely, that the U.S. had a significant role to play in helping to bring about the recent turmoil in an effort to undermine the government of the Islamic Republic.
Eric Margolis, a columnist for Quebecor Media Company in Canada and a contributor to The Huffington Post, wrote:
"While the majority of protests we see in Tehran are genuine and spontaneous, Western intelligence agencies and media are playing a key role in sustaining the uprising and providing communications, including the newest electronic method, via Twitter. These are covert techniques developed by the US during recent revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia that brought pro-US governments to power."
Both authors cite numerous cases of the U.S. using covert means to overthrow legitimate governments. The CIA engineered large demonstrations, along with assassinations and terrorist bombings, to cause confusion and overthrow the parliamentary government of Iran' Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. The U.S. used similar methods in an effort to overthrow Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2002. (For more details, see my book, Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba.)
Hammond cites my book The Iran Agenda and my interview on Democracy Now to show that the Bush Administration was training and funding ethnic minorities in an effort to overthrow the Iranian government in 2007.
All the arguments are by analogy and implication. Neither the above two authors, nor anyone else of whom I am aware, offers one shred of evidence that the Obama Administration has engineered, or even significantly influenced, the current demonstrations.
Let's look at what actually happened on the ground. Tens of millions of Iranians went to bed on Friday, June 12, convinced that either Mousavi had won the election outright or that there would be runoff between him and Ahmadinejad. They woke up Saturday morning and were stunned. "It was a coup d'etat," several friends told me. The anger cut across class lines and went well beyond Mousavi's core base of students, intellectuals and the well-to-do.
Within two days hundreds of thousands of people were demonstrating peacefully in the streets of Tehran and other major cities. Could the CIA have anticipated the vote count, and on two days notice, mobilized its nefarious networks? Does the CIA even have the kind of extensive networks that would be necessary to control or even influence such a movement? That simultaneously gives the CIA too much credit and underestimates the independence of the mass movement.
As for the charge that the CIA is providing advanced technology like Twitter, pleaaaaaase. In my commentary carried on Reuters, I point out that the vast majority of Iranians have no access to Twitter and that the demonstrations were mostly organized by cell phone and word of mouth.
Many Iranians do watch foreign TV channels via satellite. A sat dish costs only about $100 with no monthly fees, so they are affordable even to the working class. Iranians watched BBC, VOA and other foreign channels in Farsi, leading to government assertions of foreign instigation of the demonstrations. By that logic, Ayatollah Khomeini received support from Britain in the 1979 revolution because of BBC radio's critical coverage of the despotic Shah.
Frankly, based on my observations, no one was leading the demonstrations. During the course of the week after the elections, the mass movement evolved from one protesting vote fraud into one calling for much broader freedoms. You could see it in the changing composition of the marches. There were not only upper middle class kids in tight jeans and designer sun glasses. There were growing numbers of workers and women in very conservative chadors.
Iranian youth particularly resented President Ahmadinejad's support for religious militia attacks on unmarried young men and women walking together and against women not covering enough hair with their hijab. Workers resented the 24 percent annual inflation that robbed them of real wage increases. Independent trade unionists were fighting for decent wages and for the right to organize.
Some demonstrators wanted a more moderate Islamic government. Others advocated a separation of mosque and state, and a return to parliamentary democracy they had before the 1953 coup. But virtually everyone believes that Iran has the right to develop nuclear power, including enriching uranium. Iranians support the Palestinians in their fight against Israeli occupation, and they want to see the U.S. get out of Iraq.
So if the CIA was manipulating the demonstrators, it was doing a piss poor job.
Of course, the CIA would like to have influence in Iran. But that's a far cry from saying it does have influence. By proclaiming the omnipotence of U.S. power, the leftist critics ironically join hands with Ahmadinejad and the reactionary clerics who blame all unrest on the British and U.S.
3. Assertion: Ahmadinejad is a nationalist-populist who opposes U.S. imperialism. Efforts to overthrow him only help the U.S.
James Petras wrote: "Ahmadinejad's strong position on defense matters contrasted with the pro-Western and weak defense posture of many of the campaign propagandists of the opposition...."
"Ahmadinejad's electoral success, seen in historical comparative perspective should not be a surprise. In similar electoral contests between nationalist-populists against pro-Western liberals, the populists have won. Past examples include Peron in Argentina and, most recently, Chavez of Venezuela, [and] Evo Morales in Bolivia."
Venezuela's Foreign Ministry wrote on its website:
"The Bolivarian Government of Venezuela expresses its firm opposition to the vicious and unfounded campaign to discredit the institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, unleashed from outside, designed to roil the political climate of our brother country. From Venezuela, we denounce these acts of interference in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, while demanding an immediate halt to the maneuvers to threaten and destabilize the Islamic Revolution."
From 1953-1979, the Shah of Iran brutally repressed his own people and aligned himself with the U.S. and Israel. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran brutally repressed its own people and broke its alliance with the U.S. and Israel. That apparently causes confusion for some on the left.
I have written numerous articles and books criticizing U.S. policy on Iran, including Bush administration efforts to overthrow the Islamic government. The U.S. raises a series of phony issues, or exaggerates problems, in an effort to impose its domination on Iran. (Examples include Iran's nuclear power program, support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and support for Shiite groups in Iraq.)
During his past four years in office, Ahmadinejad has ramped up Iran's anti-imperialist rhetoric and posed himself as a leader of the Islamic world. That accounts for his fiery rhetoric against Israel and his denial of the Holocaust. (Officially, Ahmadinejad "questions" the Holocaust and says "more study is necessary." That reminds me of the creationists who say there needs to be more study because evolution is only a theory.) As pointed out by the opposition candidates, Ahmadinejad's rhetoric about Israel and Jews has only alienated people around the world and made it more difficult for the Palestinians.
But in the real world, Ahmadinejad has done nothing to support the Palestinians other than sending some funds to Hamas. Despite rhetoric from the U.S. and Israel, Iran has little impact on a struggle that must be resolved by Palestinians and Israelis themselves.
So comparing Ahmadinejad with Chavez or Evo Morales is absurd. I have reported from both Venezuela and Bolivia numerous times. Those countries have genuine mass movements that elected and kept those leaders in power. They have implemented significant reforms that benefitted workers and farmers. Ahmadinejad has introduced 24% annual inflation and high unemployment.
As for the position of Venezuela and President Hugo Chavez, they are simply wrong. On a diplomatic level, Venezuela and Iran share some things in common. Both are under attack from the U.S., including past efforts at "regime change." Venezuela and other governments around the world will have to deal with Ahmadinejad as the de facto president, so questioning the election could cause diplomatic problems.
But that's no excuse. Chavez has got it exactly backward. The popular movement in the streets will make Iran stronger as it rejects outside interference from the U.S. or anyone else.
This is no academic debate or simply fodder for bored bloggers. Real lives are at stake. A repressive government has killed at least 17 Iranians and injured hundreds. The mass movement may not be strong enough to topple the system today but is sowing the seeds for future struggles.
The leftist critics must answer the question: Whose side are you on?
Freelance foreign correspondent Reese Erlich covered the recent elections in Iran and their aftermath. He is the author of The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis. (Polipoint Press)