Jonathan Tobin projects the failings of Iran hawks onto others:
Like the Kremlinologists who spent decades trying to interpret the factions among the rulers of the Soviet Union before its fall, the point of much of the speculation about dissension among the ruling class in Iran is to try to throw cold water on policies intended to pressure the Islamist government. There is nothing wrong with keeping up on which of the tyrants of Tehran is gaining the upper hand on his colleagues. But the problem is that such discussions inevitably tempt Westerners to imagine that outreach to the supposed doves or liberals inside the regime will ameliorate its differences with the rest of the world. A sober look at the nature of this “opposition” and its goals ought to put an end to such foolishness.
This is very funny in its way. Tobin identifies the Green movement as the “real opposition to Islamist hegemony” just before he launches into a lecture on the need to have a sober look at the goals and nature of a different “opposition.” A sober look at the nature and goals of the Green movement would have discovered a movement interested in redressing specific grievances inside the existing system. It was emphatically not a movement for regime change or a rejection of what Tobin calls “Islamist hegemony,” since the leaders of that movement had been long-time supporters of the Islamic revolution and republic. It wasn’t a movement that represented a different position on the nuclear issue, and Mousavi made a point of criticizing Ahmadinejad after the election for being too willing to make concessions on the nuclear issue. Iran hawks and democratists have misunderstood (or pretended to misunderstand) the Green movement as a revolutionary force aimed at regime change for four years, which is why they keep repeating the nonsensical claim that the U.S. could and should have “done more” to support the protests in 2009-2010. They had (or pretended to have) a “rooting” interest in the 2009 election because they chose to ignore what the opposition represented and what it wanted.
The occasion for Tobin’s post is an article in The New York Times that previews Iran’s presidential election in June. This is the part of the article that seems to have provoked Tobin:
With the demise of the protest movement that sprang up after the last presidential election, in 2009, Mr. Ahmadinejad and his supporters have emerged in the unlikely role of the opposition. They are now fighting the traditionalists who, among other things, take a tougher line in negotiations with the West on Iran’s nuclear program and would like to abolish the presidency — a locus of opposition to their power.
This will not come as much of a surprise to anyone who has been paying much attention to Iran for the last few years. When Ahmadinejad was first elected in 2005, he did so by prevailing over the leadership’s preferred candidate. The relationship between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad has never been that good in the first place. Since the 2009 election, Ahmadinejad and his crony Mashaei have been clashing with some of Iran’s clerics, and Ahmadinejad’s allies have come under attack, and some have been arrested. While the article treats it as something surprising, the public mutual loathing between Ali Larijani and Ahmadinejad has been hard to miss for several years.
As in 2009, none of this has anything to do with radically changing Iran’s political system, reorienting its foreign policy, or changing its position on the nuclear issue. It is is a rivalry for influence and power inside the existing system. Americans have no “rooting” interest here. It is an internal Iranian political fight and one that doesn’t affect any of the outstanding disputes between the U.S. and Iran. Of course, Americans didn’t really have a “rooting” interest four years ago, either, but some Americans can’t seem to fathom that some things in the world don’t concern us, aren’t about us, and don’t require us to get involved.