UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

June 19, 2009

MORNING LINE: THE IRANIAN ELECTION

Sam Smith - As Jeff Blankfort writes in a note, "I consider Ahamdinejad, like Arafat, a gift to Israel (AIPAC's president, David Victor, called him 'the gift that keeps on giving.'). I wanted him out since his re-election would and does make an Israeli attack on Iran more likely than ever."

But in stories like this, we have to avoid confusing hope with reality, and the Iran election story seems a classic case of the media and politicians turning a complex situation into a neat little fairy tale. A few things to bear in mind:

- Ahmadinejad got approximately the same percent of the vote as he did in 2005.

- There has yet to be any significant evidence of vote fraud that would account for an 11 milllion vote theft.

- Ahmadinejad's supporters tended to be urban and more sophisticated and more likely to have cell phones and use the Internet.

- On foreign policy, Mousavi and Ahamdinejad shared similar views, including the right of Iran to have a nuclear program.

- There were key issues - such as the economy and corruption - that played a muich larger role than was credited by the western media.

As for the Twitter hype, a few points:

- As reported here, there was evidence that the Twitter use may have been spurred by manipulation outside of Iran.

- In America, where Twitter is far more common, only 4% in a recent Zogby poll called it a primary source of news.
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- The idea of the Internet as a positive political force is one frequently extolled by the media, but since its use became widespread, the world and the U.S. has generally moved more to the right. While this may be coincidence, it does suggest that one should not overrate the benign influence of the Net.


A CLOSER LOOK AT IRAN

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, Politico, Jun 15 - Without any evidence, many U.S. politicians and 'Iran experts' have dismissed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection with 62.6 percent of the vote, as fraud.

They ignore the fact that Ahmadinejad's 62.6 percent of the vote in this year's election is essentially the same as the 61.69 percent he received in the final count of the 2005 presidential election, when he trounced former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The shock of the "Iran experts" over Friday's results is entirely self-generated, based on their preferred assumptions and wishful thinking.

Although Iran's elections are not free by Western standards, the Islamic Republic has a 30-year history of highly contested and competitive elections at the presidential, parliamentary and local levels. Manipulation has always been there, as it is in many other countries.

But upsets occur - as, most notably, with Mohammed Khatami's surprise victory in the 1997 presidential election. Moreover, "blowouts" also occur - as in Khatami's reelection in 2001, Ahmadinejad's first victory in 2005 and, we would argue, this year.

Like much of the Western media, most American "Iran experts" overstated Mir Hossein Mousavi's "surge" over the campaign's final weeks. More important, they were oblivious - as in 2005 - to Ahmadinejad's effectiveness as a populist politician and campaigner. American "Iran experts" missed how Ahmadinejad was perceived by most Iranians as having won the nationally televised debates with his three opponents - especially his debate with Mousavi.

Before the debates, both Mousavi and Ahmadinejad campaign aides indicated privately that they perceived a surge of support for Mousavi; after the debates, the same aides concluded that Ahmadinejad's provocatively impressive performance and Mousavi's desultory one had boosted the incumbent's standing. Ahmadinejad's charge that Mousavi was supported by Rafsanjani's sons - widely perceived in Iranian society as corrupt figures - seemed to play well with voters. . .

More fundamentally, American "Iran experts" consistently underestimated Ahmadinejad's base of support. Polling in Iran is notoriously difficult; most polls there are less than fully professional and, hence, produce results of questionable validity. But the one poll conducted before Friday's election by a Western organization that was transparent about its methodology - a telephone poll carried out by the Washington-based Terror-Free Tomorrow from May 11 to 20 - found Ahmadinejad running 20 points ahead of Mousavi. This poll was conducted before the televised debates in which, as noted above, Ahmadinejad was perceived to have done well while Mousavi did poorly.

American "Iran experts" assumed that "disastrous" economic conditions in Iran would undermine Ahmadinejad's reelection prospects. But the International Monetary Fund projects that Iran's economy will actually grow modestly this year (when the economies of most Gulf Arab states are in recession). A significant number of Iranians - including the religiously pious, lower-income groups, civil servants and pensioners - appear to believe that Ahmadinejad's policies have benefited them. . .

With regard to electoral irregularities, the specific criticisms made by Mousavi - such as running out of ballot paper in some precincts and not keeping polls open long enough (even though polls stayed open for at least three hours after the announced closing time) - could not, in themselves, have tipped the outcome so clearly in Ahmadinejad's favor. . .

The Islamic Republic is a system with multiple power centers; within that system, there is a strong and enduring consensus about core issues of national security and foreign policy, including Iran's nuclear program and relations with the United States. Any of the four candidates in Friday's election would have continued the nuclear program as Iran's president; none would agree to its suspension.

Any of the four candidates would be interested in a diplomatic opening with the United States, but that opening would need to be comprehensive, respectful of Iran's legitimate national security interests and regional importance, accepting of Iran's right to develop and benefit from the full range of civil nuclear technology - including pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle - and aimed at genuine rapprochement.

Flynt Leverett directs The New America Foundation's Iran Project and teaches international affairs at Pennsylvania State university. Hillary Mann Leverett is CEO of STRATEGA, a political risk consultancy. Both worked for many years on Middle East issues for the U.S. government, including as members of the National Security Council staff.

2 Comments:

Anonymous JLundell said...

"- Ahmadinejad's supporters tended to be urban and more sophisticated and more likely to have cell phones and use the Internet."

Typo?

June 19, 2009 4:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The whole Iran election "crisis" smells strongly of the CIA. More of our state sponsored terrorism.

June 19, 2009 8:01 PM  

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