While Juan Cole and others have offered reason to think the Iranian election was stolen, several items in the British press — this one by Robert Fisk, for example, and this by Abbas Barzegar — make a strong case that Ahmadinejad won fair and square. “Ahmadinejad really does love democracy. But he also loves dictatorial order,” Fisk writes. “He is not a dictator. He is a Democrator.”

The West is not in a very good position to know whether the election was rigged. If it wasn’t, the results give expression to a conflict that has always existed at the philosophical level but that Westerners prefer not to look in the eye: the clash between democracy and liberalism. If a dictator, or Democrator, wins fairly, should he still be pressed out of office? If a mass electorate endorses repression and militarism, should elections be ignored? A further twist, however, is that Ahmadinejad’s opposition are not the enlightened liberals the West would like them to be. Note the chant of the anti-Ahmadinejad crowd that Fisk runs across: “Zionist Ahmadinejad – cheating at exams.”

All the more reason the U.S. and other Western powers should not try to influence the situation, much as we may hope the relatively moderate side prevails.