With our attention riveted elsewhere, on the imbroglios of national politics, a remarkable development in the Middle-East is slipping past without raising any of the hullabaloo to which it deserves. An election is going on in Iran, with results that appear to be significant to the future prospects of world peace.
The government of Iran is a complex structure of civic processes tightly intertwined with religious infrastructures. The government exists in an arcane duality dictated not only by a constitution but also by the Quran, with everything subject to limitation and oversight to ensure compliance with the demands of Islam, and with all of it under the exclusive and absolute control an Ayatollah. It is abundantly clear that most of us have no idea how the various parts of Iran’s governing machinery are connected up or relate with one another or with the rest of the world.
Perhaps partly as a consequence of this lack – since by nature, we tend to dislike that which we do not understand – but apparently and mostly out of a desire to make the President look bad and denigrate the importance of the nuclear arms agreement negotiated on his watch, the campaign rhetoric from the pack of Republican candidates treats Iran with suspicion and disdain.
The country is considered an enemy, as though Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the odd-ball hardliner from the past, was still the president, that the reform movement was non-existent or had made no progress, that the Ayatollah of today was of the same ilk as the Ayatollahs of yore, and that no changes had been made in any parts of the country since the hostage days of Presidents Carter and Reagan.
Despite the eyes of the rest of the world watching with aghast fascination, the nuclear arms agreement is dismissed as a huge mistake, the trade embargoes are praised for the misery they have caused, and it is repeated blatantly and often that the United States should have somehow managed to confiscate the Iranian assets embargoed in banks throughout the world. This representation of the Iranian situation by the Republican beseechers could not be more wrong.
In fact, dramatic changes have begun to occur within Iran. The visible change began with the unexpected election of the moderate Hassan Rouhani as president to replace Ahmadinejad in 2013. The nuclear arms agreement was largely possible because of Rouhani’s efforts in heading off opposition from the hardliners by stressing the importance to Iran of lessening the crippling economic sanctions, and in securing the Ayatollah’s agreement not to interfere. While Secretary Kerry pulled off a diplomatic coup in assembling the impossible coalition of allies that included Russia and China at the same table, all would have been for naught without Rouhani being receptive to the idea from the outset.
With this background, on last Friday the Iranians went to the polls to elect members to their 290 seat parliament and the 88 member “assembly of experts,” a council of clerics and religious leaders that plays a role in the selection of the successor to the Ayatollah. These bodies had been overwhelmingly in the hands of the principlists or hardliners. The election of 2016 was the first general election since the announcement of the nuclear arms agreement.
The results of the election are not final yet, but with a dramatic turnout in excess of 60% of the qualified electorate, it appears the results will be continued gains for the reform and moderate candidates in both the parliament and the assembly of experts. The principlist majority in parliament appears to have disappeared, and their hold on the assembly of experts lessened considerably. The election is being seen as a referendum on the nuclear deal as virtually every prominent critic of the nuclear pact was defeated.
The long range impact of this shift in power on foreign policy is still uncertain. The Ayatollah has made it clear to President Rouhani that he does not foresee a relaxation of tensions with the United States. Nevertheless, with the influence of the hardliners beginning to wane, President Rouhani and his moderate allies within Iran are working for more open communications with the West. While it is way too early to count on anything, and no one is suggesting that the United States drop its guard for an instant, the developments are unmistakably a positive sign of at least the potential for better relations between Iran and the United States in the future.
With all this properly in context, is it too much to ask of our candidates for election that they shut the bleep up about Iran? Or if they have to talk, that they explain the situation in Iran as it actually exists, instead of making stuff up as they strive to make Obama look bad? There was a time, in my lifetime, where both parties subscribed to the principle that when trouble was brewing, we had one President at a time and all politics stopped at the water’s edge. If there was an international crisis afoot, then no matter what the individual or even partisan beliefs might be, as to the world, we stood solidly behind the words and actions of the current President.
Would that we could return to that day, instead of having to tolerate the intemperate, hyperbolic and plainly fallacious remarks of Trump, Cruz and Rubio as they shoot off their collective mouths striving to climb over each other on a subject they know nothing about.