I will be sorry to see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leave the Iranian presidency after this week’s elections.
His confrontational style, virulent strain of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, threats to wipe Israel off the map and boasts of weapons capable of destroying enemies within a thousand or more miles have made it so much easier to mobilize international opposition to Iran and build a broad international coalition against his country’s nuclear program.
I know the president of Iran is really the number two – at best – behind the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, a former president himself. Although Khamenei had rigged the 2009 presidential election to elect Ahmadinejad, the former protege is currently out of favor. Khamenei is more extreme and more dangerous than Ahmadinejad, particularly because he has the power to impose his views, but Ahmadinejad, who is term-limited, has been the public face – and mouth – of the regime, and to the Western world in particular it has been an ugly presence.
Elections in the Islamic republic are not free. The candidates have to be approved by Khamenei and the Guardian Council. At least as far as nuclear policy is concerned, all eight running for president in Friday’s election support the current program.
Western sanctions are said to have had a crippling impact on the economy but they have only stiffened resistance to compromise among the candidates and in the ruling circles, and even many elements of the public.
I don’t expect any president who takes office August 3 to hold different views, but if he is less confrontational, more reasonable sounding (“sounding” is the key word), he could undo some of valuable contributions Ahmadinejad has made to mobilizing international pressure to halt Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
The real threat is not who is elected but maintaining international resolve to make sure Iran does not build nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad has been so helpful in building the anti-nuclear coalition.