Elliott Abrams is “rooting” for Ebrahim Raisi to win Iran’s presidential election:
It’s simple. Raisi is the true face of the Islamic Republic, while Rouhani is a façade. Rouhani has shown himself powerless to effect any change in the regime’s conduct and his only role is to mislead the West into thinking “moderates” are in charge. We are far better off, as we were when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president, when there are no illusions about Iran’s regime and the men who lead it [bold mine-DL].
Abrams’ desire is misguided but very revealing. I am not surprised that a leading Iran hawk wants the hard-line Iranian candidate to win, because that result could and would be used to justify ratcheting up tensions with Iran. It would be better for Iran and the wider region if Rouhani won, if only because it would deprive hawks in Washington and Riyadh of a new excuse for even more aggressive policies. Hard-liners in the U.S. benefit when Iranian hard-liners are ascendant, and that is bad for both of our countries.
Abrams notably doesn’t have much to say about the nuclear deal with Iran. It is reasonable to assume that this deal would not have been completed (and might not have been attempted) under a more hard-line Iranian president. My guess is that Abrams’ desire for Rouhani to lose is at least partly related to a desire to see the nuclear deal collapse. A Rouhani win would affirm and strengthen the nuclear deal, and it makes continued Iranian compliance more likely. That is valuable enough in itself that anyone interested in the success of the JCPOA should hope for that outcome instead.