Although the hypothesis has long been disproved, some in the Western media and intellectual community still try to peddle the reform theory about Iran. There is an assumption that the election of so-called moderates could help usher in an era of reduced hostilities with the West. There are two types of people who advance this narrative. The first group comprises of people who genuinely believe Iran could moderate its stance under its existing political structure. The second group is cognizant of Iran’s duplicitous behavior but often tries to pull the wool over the eyes of unsuspecting audiences. Make no mistake. Iran will retain its disruptive, terror-exporting avatar. It doesn’t matter who wins the elections.
Four years of Hassan Rouhani provide ample proof. Apart from presiding over an alarming rise in capital punishment and political persecution at home, Rouhani proved to be a golden boy for the mullahs. Support for the brutal Bashar al-Assad regime increased manifold and new areas of conflict were launched in Iraq and Yemen. Rouhani also opened up the coffers by hoodwinking the overly-appeasing Western leaders to sign the controversial nuclear deal. The bulked-up treasury is coming in handy in recruiting and maintaining genocidal militias; stocking up on weaponry and ballistic missiles; and projecting Iranian power across the region and beyond.
Apart from Rouhani, the top contenders are Ebrahim Raisi, a religious tycoon, and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran. Raisi, touted by some to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered the purges on leftists and dissidents in 1988, which claimed thousands of lives. Ironically enough, the mullahs disqualified ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from the contest along with 1,600 other candidates, including all women contenders. Arbitrary disqualifications are a norm and even having served two terms as a president doesn’t grant one any immunity.
The re-election of Rouhani, which is highly likely, will only exacerbate the Iranian subversive activities in the region. His defeat will not deter the mullahs from advancing their narrow-minded worldview either. The blame lies on the political structure where no really independent leader could emerge out of the shadows of theocracy. The “revolutionary” worldview has put Iran on a perpetual collision course with its neighbors and the West. A curious case where the so-called victim mentality has given way to extreme disregard for civility and an outright rejection of international norms.
It’s no wonder, then, that Iran doesn’t enjoy cordial relations with any of its neighbors. Even the nondescript Turkmenistan isn’t happy. Iraq has become a de-facto colony of Tehran but there is deep resentment, even among the Shiites. Moqtada al-Sadr, once the blue-eyed boy of Tehran, has refused to adopt Iran’s line on Syria. Iran is lobbing verbal grenades at Pakistan, matched with frequent border violations. It’s also making overtures to Taliban, who have made a striking resurgence this year. Iran has been arming militants in Bahrain and fomenting unrest in other regions.
The Obama administration, while aware of these realities, chose the appeasement path. The resulting mess has created a major threat to global peace. One can expect Iran to get emboldened after the elections. It has ordered additional deployment of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria, which will further enhance human suffering. The IRGC, which is one of the largest terror organizations in the contemporary era, was slated to be blacklisted by the Trump administration. There hasn’t been any update on why the administration stumbled on its promise. There was some opposition from the previous administration held-overs, who were still favoring the appeasement policy. Others are perhaps waiting for the election results.
There should be no hopes placed on the outcomes of Iranian elections though. They are largely a show-off exercise, providing quasi-democratic cover for the mullahs. The real moderates, if they are ever allowed to contest the polls, could prove detrimental to the clergy’s supremacy. Old regime hands like Rouhani come in handy. They can spin the narrative in mullahs’ favor and carry out the expansionist agenda with gusto.
The ultimate victims of regime machinations are ordinary Iranians. If the last 38 years bear any testimony, they have literally jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Earlier, the regime was largely directing its guns at its own citizens. The path of misery now extends all the way to the Mediterranean. Whether it is Ghalibaf, Raisi or Rouhani, things won’t change much at home. The brutal repression will continue, in one form or another. Deliverance lies in replacing the existing structure with a true representative government. It is a long and hard struggle but there is no alternative.