Ahmadinejad shows who is in charge
We have heard for years now from pundits on the left that we should essentially ignore the rantings of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Yes, he talks about genocide. Yes, he stole the June 2009 elections. But, liberal pundits caution, he is not really in charge. That, of course, bolsters their view that there are more rational leaders who are "actually" in charge with whom we can do business.
On the other side, scholars and pundits critical of the administration's Iran engagement policy have argued that Ahmadinejad is very much in charge, and his public rantings suggest that talking him out of pursuing nuclear weapons is a dangerous fantasy.
This week we got one more bit of data for the two sides to consider.
Shortly after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went chasing after Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Ahmadinejad canned him. The Associated Press reports:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave no explanation for the change in a brief statement on his website. But the fired diplomat, Manouchehr Mottaki, is seen as close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And the president may be aiming to install a figure more personally loyal to himself as Tehran resumes critical talks with world powers over the nuclear program that has brought four rounds of U.N. sanctions on Iran.
The nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, is one of Ahmadinejad's 12 vice presidents.
Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told me this morning that this should be seen as another sign of the "gradual incorporation of Islamic Republic's institutions into the Ahmadinejad republic. Salehi is not the foreign minister of that country; Ahmadinejad and his cronies are."
Michael Singh, a visiting scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, had a more cautious view. In response to my question about the significance of Mottaki's firing, Singh e-mailed:
I view this as just the first move in a power struggle over foreign policy, and it is too soon to tell how it will shake out. Mottaki and Ahmadinejad had clashed recently, and Khamenei appeared to side with Mottaki. Now, it remains to be seen whether sacking Mottaki will result in Ahmadinejad getting the foreign minister he wants and accumulating greater power and control.... The fact that Ahmadinejad had to replace him does not, in my view, speak favorably to his ability to exercise control over his government or foreign policy, which is traditionally an area over which the presidency in Iran has greater authority (relative to say economic or military issues).
Events like this should cause us to reflect on our current policy. Perhaps by negotiating with Iran we have helped to solidify Ahmadinejad's position and discredited his domestic critics. At the very least, he is plainly not as irrelevant as liberal pundits would have us believe. Moreover, don't we now look foolish (even more so than usual) negotiating with the very man who heads Iran's nuclear program? Those who advocate continued engagement, I would submit, have the burden of proof to demonstrate that we are doing more good than harm in continuing to participate in the Ahmadinejad-orchestrated charade. Right now, the weight of the evidence is on the other side.
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