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Why U.S. Neocons Want Ahmadinejad to Win

American conservatives and Iranian hard-liners need each other.

The only people happier than the Iranian elites over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's apparently stolen election win Friday, were the neoconservatives and other hawks eager to block any efforts by the Obama administration to moderate U.S. policy toward the Islamic republic.

Since he was elected president in 2005, Ahmadinejad has filled a certain niche in the American psyche formerly filled by the likes of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi as the Middle Eastern leader we most love to hate. It gives us a sense of righteous superiority to compare ourselves favorably to these seemingly irrational and fanatical foreign despots.

Better yet, if these despots can be inflated into far greater threats than they actually are, these supposed threats can be used to justify the enormous financial and human costs of maintaining American armed forces in that volatile region to protect ourselves and our allies, and even to make war against far-off nations in "self-defense."

Such inflated threats also have the added bonus of silencing critics of America's overly-militarized Middle East policy, since anyone who dares to challenge the hyperbole and exaggerated claims regarding these leaders' misdeeds or to provide a more balanced and realistic assessment of the actual threat they represent can then be depicted as naive apologists for dangerous fanatics who threaten our national security.

The neocons have not been subtle about their desire for Ahmadinejad to continue playing this important role. For example, right-wing pundit Daniel Pipes, at a panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation just before the election, said that he would vote for Ahmadinejad if he could, because he prefers "an enemy who is forthright, blatant, obvious."

Last Wednesday, Congressional Republicans -- in an apparent effort to enhance the chances of Iranian hard liners just two days before the election -- tried to push for a floor vote to strengthen sanctions against Iran.

It is interesting how some of the very foreign policy hawks who just days ago were dismissing Mir Hossein Mousavi's expected victory as irrelevant since, in their view, there was essentially no meaningful difference between him and Ahmadinejad, are now among the most self-righteous in denouncing the apparent fraud and outspoken in their pseudo-outrage at the rigged results.

Their worst-case scenario would be a nonviolent insurrection that would topple Ahmadinejad and allied hard-line clerics comparable to those that followed attempts to steal elections in such countries as the Philippines and Serbia. Neither the neocons nor Iran's reactionary leadership want to see that oil-rich regional power under a popular and legitimate government. Indeed, the neocons and Iranian hard-liners need each other.

The Impact on Relations with the United States

In one sense, there really are not huge differences between the two leading candidates in last Friday's Iranian presidential election on key foreign policy issues that most concern the United States.

For example, virtually all leading Iranian political figures, including Mousavi, defend what they consider to be Iran's right to engage in nuclear enrichment and other aspects of the country's thus-far civilian nuclear program.

More critically, the president is far from being the most powerful figure in Iranian politics, particularly on foreign policy issues.

Furthermore, as outrageous and offensive as Ahmadinejad's comments regarding Israel and the Holocaust may be, the Iranian president is not commander-in-chief of the armed forces, so Ahmadinejad would be incapable of ordering an attack on Israel even if Iran had the means to do so.

Though the clerics who really do wield power certainly take hard-line positions on a number of policy areas, collective leadership normally mitigates impulsive actions such as launching a war of aggression, especially if your enemy has a massive nuclear-deterrent capability that could obliterate your country in less than 15 minutes. Indeed, bold and risky policies rarely come out of committees.