January 28, 2006


To Tame Tehran (Michael McFaul and Abbas Milani, January 28, 2006, Washington Post)

Unexpectedly, Ahmadinejad has pushed hard to remove from power many experienced high- and mid-level government officials, including those previously handling the nuclear negotiations, and to replace them with unqualified loyalists from the security services and the Basijis. Not surprisingly, these fired professionals have quietly begun to regroup to push back, and, significantly, their efforts have not been checked by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Until recently Khamenei had backed Ahmadinejad as a way to restrain the powers of Rafsanjani, but now Khamenei is gently seeking ways to rein in the new president and those spiritual zealots close to him, such as Mesbah-Yazdi, who threaten the supreme leader's authority.

If this split in the regime deepens, Ahmadinejad will not be able to rely on widespread support in Iranian society. In last year's presidential election, Ahmadinejad ran a clever campaign as an outsider and critic of the status quo. He rallied electoral support not by promising to remove Israel from the face of the earth but by pledging to fight corruption and support the poor. In power, however, Ahmadinejad quickly undermined his anti-corruption credentials by appointing his relatives to government positions, and then tried to change the subject by launching repressive policies at home and exacerbating tensions abroad. Economic woes, new restrictions on social freedoms and disappointed expectations mean that popular support for his Khomeini renaissance is shallow.

These developments create opportunities for Western leaders well beyond U.N. votes. First, and most obviously, the United States must take advantage of the current climate to further isolate and marginalize Ahmadinejad and his cabal and hold them responsible for the crisis. Calls for constructive engagement with Iran's president are wrong; such overtures would only confirm Ahmadinejad's contention that confrontational policies reap rewards.

Second, U.S. and European leaders must do more to stimulate a serious discussion in Iranian society about the country's security interests, and articulate policies and arguments that will strengthen an Iranian political coalition against nuclear weapons. So far the Tehran regime has monopolized the discussion. Though disguised in assertions about Iran's right to nuclear energy, the strategic thinking of the regime has been quite simple: The United States invaded Iraq because Iraq did not have nuclear weapons; the United States has not invaded North Korea because North Korea has nuclear weapons.

The flaws in this logic must be exposed. In a major public address, President Bush should pledge that the United States will never attack a nonnuclear Iran, while also underscoring that the Iranian process of acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities actually increases the likelihood of military confrontation with the United States. Western leaders should remind Iranian society that a nuclear Iran would also trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, as Egypt and Saudi Arabia would move quickly to develop their own arsenals.

Ayatollah Khamenei is a tactical ally against Ahmadinejad and the Iranian people are a strategic ally against both.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 28, 2006 7:52 AM


You can trust the WaPo on this one - I'll pass.

Remember, they loved Andropov, too.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 28, 2006 10:49 AM

McFaul isn't a Poster.

Posted by: oj at January 28, 2006 11:28 AM