Bernie Sanders would have been Iran's top preference to become the next American president. His speeches criticizing corporations, the widening gap between rich and poor in the US, and the size of American military and its involvement around the world, were even televised on Iran's state media outlets.
Sanders' foreign and Middle East policies lean towards isolationism, which would be congruent with Iran's agenda of pushing American forces out of the region, and pursuing its regional hegemonic ambitions.
But currently Sanders has most likely run out of luck and lacks delegate votes to win the democratic nomination. Therefore, which candidate - Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump - would be Iranian leaders' top choice?
On the nuclear deal: The Epicenter of Middle East Tensions in Iran-Arab and Iran-Israel Relations
For Iranian leaders, the first issue to examine is the candidate's view on the nuclear agreement. Although the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, publicly criticizes some aspects of the nuclear agreement and condemns the West for not fulfilling its share completely, he remains in favor of the agreement.
The continuing implementation of the nuclear agreement is leading to the release of billions of dollars into Iran's treasury, increase in oil sales, rejoining the international community, the global financial system, and enhancing Iran's global legitimacy which allow Iran to more efficiently, comfortably, and freely deploy its hard and soft power in the region.
Hillary Clinton has come out in favor of the nuclear agreement. In fact, during the time that she served as Secretary of State, Clinton assisted in ushering the Iranian leaders to the negotiating table.
She pointed out, at the MSNBC Democratic forum, "I spent 18 months putting together the sanctions against Iran so that we could force them to the negotiating table". She is more likely to ignore Iran's defiance in other landscapes in order to sustain the nuclear deal.
In other words, Iran will be capable of continuing to hold the US hostage by the nuclear agreement and advancing its ideological, geopolitical, strategic and regional hegemonic ambitions without fear of repercussions. This will lead to further destabilization of the region, heightened tensions, more support for Assad, subsequently more radicalization and militarization or groups such as ISIS, and potentially turning into a regional conflagration. The nuclear agreement- which has empowered Iran's IRGC, its provocations as well as the nuclear deal's terms that would ensure that after the deal, Iran would be capable of enriching uranium, spinning as many centrifuges as it desires and becomes a nuclear state- has turned into the epicenter of Middle East tensions, specifically between Iran-Arab and Iran-Israel relations. The sanctions reliefs is allowing Iran to boost its support for the Syrian government and its proxies across the region which is heightening the existing tensions, in return.
On the other hand, Donald Trump has rallied his campaign against Iran's nuclear agreement. watching the implementation of the nuclear deal and Iran's compliance more closely, analyzing Iran's missile activities, criticizing it in case of UN resolution violations, and standing against the nuclear agreement appear to be Trump's top priority as the billionaire's son, Eric Trump, stated on a radio show that what drove his father to run for presidency was Obama's nuclear deal with Iran.
"I think, honestly, the Iran nuclear deal was one of the things that made him jump into the race...I think that was a game changer for him."
As a result, when it comes to the nuclear agreement, Clinton's policy scores better with the Iranian leaders, particularly the major decision makers: Khamenei, and the hard-line military officers of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Middle East Policy and Human Rights Violations
The best candidate that Iranian leaders can wish for would be someone who does the following: not take leadership positions on issues concerning the Middle Eastern nations, envisions a minimal role in Iraq and Syria (Iran's redlines), allows Iran to take the front seat, allows tactical cooperation with Iran - assisting Tehran behind the scenes but not strategic cooperation - turns a blind eye on IRGC role in the region including in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, ignores Iran's enhancing military capacity such as ballistic missiles, and turns a blind eye on Iran's human rights violations including domestic repression, executions, imprisoning political and human rights activists, and suppressing freedom.
Overwhelming majority of Iranian people desire an American president who does not ally himself/herself with the repressive government, stand with them for democratic aspirations and strongly condemn the Iranian government for human rights abuses. Iran ranks first in the world when it comes to executions per capita.
But, the Iranian government, on the other hand, desires a president whose policies resemble those of President Obama. Although Clinton is slightly more hawkish in comparison to Obama, she has shown almost no deviation from Obama's foreign and Middle East policies.
Iranian leaders also desire predictability in US foreign policy in order to more effectively chart their long-term agenda. Clinton's policies are mostly predictable.
Clinton's "wait and see" foreign and Middle East policy would be beneficial to Iran's political establishment. She is more likely to turn a blind eye on IRGC activities, allow Iran's military to continue its activities in the region and thus allow Iran to take a leadership role.
On the other hand, since Trump is not part of the long-standing American political establishment as Clinton is, since there exists no precedence of how he will implement his foreign and Middle East policy, and since his foreign and Middle East policies are not as predictable as those of Clinton, Iran would be uncomfortable with the unpredictable aspect of Trump's policies, hence, favoring Clinton in that respect as well.
Finally, although Trump appears isolationist and converges with Sanders when it comes to foreign and Middle East policies, he is, however, more critical of Iran's military role in the region, human rights violations, undemocratic character of the state, and he has argued that he is willing to put forces on the ground in the region.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an American political scientist, business advisor, US foreign policy, Iran and Middle East expert, and the president of the International American Council on the Middle East. Harvard-educated, Rafizadeh serves on the advisory board of Harvard International Review and have briefed governments, politicians, NGOs and testified in courts as an expert. An American citizen, he is originally from Iran and Syria, grew up and lived most of his life in Iran and Syria till recently. He is a board member of several significant and influential international and governmental institutions, and he is native speaker of couple of languages including Arabic and Persian, speaks English and Dari, and can converse in French, Hebrew.
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You can contact him at Dr.firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @Dr_Rafizadeh. This post first appeared on Al Arabiya.