21 June 2005

Iran bets the farm on fraud

I have to admit, I don't talk about Iran much as I am not very informed on the dynamics of the Iranian society, back when old SPEC 4 Caelestis was an intel analyst, I dealt primarily with the Arab states and North Korea. That aside, I have to say today's New York Post column by the always brilliant LTC(ret.) Ralph Peters is a grand slam. Registration is required to the post so I'll post the salient points.

The first round of Iran's presidential election was as phony as Howard Dean pretending to care about our troops.
On the other hand, Iran's doctored election results must have been inspiring to our domestic left. The fundamentalist Guardian Council in Tehran did what American intellectuals have dreamed about doing for decades. When the voters rejected them, the hard-liners changed the vote count.

The way it went down was as shameless as a Donald Trump bankruptcy. On election night, Hashemi Rafsanjani, an old fox trying a new approach, led the pack. The white-knight reform candidate, Mostafa Moin, ran second. A moderate, Mehdi Karroubi, placed third.

There wasn't a religious fascist within sight of the finish line. And the regime panicked. Pushing aside the Interior Ministry, which bore the responsibility for tallying the votes, the Revolutionary Guard jumped in to "help" count ballots. The fundamentalist Guardian Council announced the results before the counting was done.

With chutzpah worthy of a celebrity lawyer, the hardliners even inflated the number of voters by 10 percent

Are you paying attention Democrats, the Iranians apparently can outdo the formidable Chicago (Daly) machine, not only can they win elections, but they can create 10% more voters than actually exist. Take a note Howard Dean, a trip to Iran could be rewarding. Why would the Mad Mullahs risk such a blatant attempt to steal this election? Col. Peters goes on to explain why he thinks it happened.

The tough guys lost their nerve. A cleric himself (if a cynical one), Rafsanjani is the one man who could out-maneuver the entire Koran-thumping pack in the ruling theocracy. Old Hashemi may not be Iran's Thomas Jefferson, but he's a devilishly capable political operator who senses the pulse of the people better than Bill Clinton.

If elected president, Rafsanjani will do a Vladimir Putin, bribing the people with social freedoms and economic progress while consolidating his own political power at the expense of the old guard who tried to deal him out of the game.

Imagine that, frail old men, the leaders of a totalitarian state act like cowards when confronted with the chance for freedom for all. How many times in history have we seen this reaction from men whose only real power lies in the amount of terror their tyranny can dish out to the people? So where do we go from here? Again Col. Peters gives us the answer;

The good news is that the hardliners are still going to lose out unless they engage in electoral fraud at a level not seen since the Soviet collapse. If the hard-liners stuff so many ballot boxes that their utterly unpopular candidate "wins" the next round, they'll trigger a level of unrest unseen since the revolution that overthrew the shah.

Whether or not a big fix would result in immediate violence in the streets, the regime would be forever discredited in the eyes of the average citizen and the world (well, maybe not France).

One caution: don't expect an easy transition in Iran. The dying regime has a nasty core of supporters, just as Saddam did. But change is coming. The desperate vote rigging is likelier to hasten it than to delay it.

The hard-liners are going to pull out all the stops to elect their man in the run-off voter intimidation, bribes, phony ballots, miscounts and every other ruse they can think of. But in a paradoxical turn of events, pro-democracy Iranians now have a critical chance to make a difference.

To paraphrase my man W. Freedom is on the March, we might not see a modern secular democracy in Iran, but anytime the Mullahs lose power and social freedom improves, then the people of Iran are on the right track. Can you imagine an Iran that is on the path to democracy coupled with a democratic Iraq, a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Lebanon? Put those together with the baby steps being taken in Egypt and Kuwait, and the other Gulf states, and very soon a pattern emerges. Before 9/11 none of this had come to pass, in less than 4 years 55 million Muslims have been freed from dictators and have established democracies (Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon), and a further 160 million Muslim (Egypt, Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait, Palestinian territories, Qatar, UAE, and Oman) are on the path to freedom if they can seize it for themselves. Imagine very soon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan will stand alone if the Muslim people of the previously mentioned countries can rise to the challenge and seize their destinies. Col. Peters ends the column with a bit of irony.

The gunslingers aren't really the two candidates who'll face each other, but one battle-scarred candidate Rafsanjani and Iran's Grand Poobah of Religious Doodoo, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who believes it's been all downhill since the seventh century. Khamenei's man, the mayor, can't win without massive fraud. If the regime declares him the winner after the next round, the transparent disregard for the people's voice will further weaken the regime, not strengthen it.

The rigging of the first-round vote was foolish on another count, too: lacking a choice, reform voters will flock to Rafsanjani. He'll become an even stronger president than he otherwise might have been.

It's a strange world, when we find ourselves rooting for one of the original "Death to America" boys to become Iran's next president. What's even stranger is that he may be the man who spells death to the rogue regime he helped create.

It will be interesting to watch Iran. The Mullahs short term need to appear powerful might actually reveal the weakness of their position and bring the whole rotten structure of theocratic Iran down. I hope the people of Iran have the bravery to kick in the door.


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