Has Iran’s President Ahmadinejad Become a Sympathetic Figure?

Since becoming president of Iran in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been demonized on a regular basis. His messianic religious view and comments about Zionism have many in Israel, as well in the United States, convinced he’s a religious fanatic who would sacrifice Iran to bring down Israel. Compared to the forces mounting against him, though, he would seem to be, though far from the soul of reform, a voice of moderation.

Ahmadinejad provides subsidies to his people, has worked to roll back religious influence, and, to some extent, seeks international engagement, including signaling a willingness to talk about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. For example, after Iran’s nuclear energy chief, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, met with International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano, he said that “he had held ‘very good’ and ‘transparent’ talks with [Amano] and had invited him to visit the Islamic state’s nuclear facilities.”

Meanwhile, writes, the editor of insideIRAN, Geneive Abdo, at Foreign Policy:

A long-brewing power struggle. . . . between Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. . . . recently burst into public view over . . . Ahmadinejad’s decision last month to dismiss Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi. [It] has left the Iranian president deeply weakened and revealed many useful lessons about the closed and convoluted political workings of the Islamic Republic. . . . The real fight was not about cabinet ministers. It was part of a test of wills between the Ahmadinejad loyalists, especially those in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and the ruling clerical establishment. . . . Khamenei appeared to believe that the cocky, alarmist Ahmadinejad, who in recent months had been boldly advancing an Iran with minimal clerical influence run by the IRCG and inspired by Iranian nationalism, not Iranian revolutionary Islamism, had to be slapped down. . . . When Khamenei gave the president an ultimatum to reinstate the minister or resign, the Supreme Leader was not only preserving his own power . . . but that of the entire clerical establishment.

The rats, it seems, are leaving the sinking ship. For example, in another article at insideIRAN, Reza Akbari writes

The intensity of threats toward Ahmadinejad have continued to build during the past months, as his previous supporters have turned against him. Ruhollah Hosseinian, a powerful hardliner and head of the Islamic Revolution Fraction of the Iranian Parliament [said of] the political infighting . . . that “efforts continue, but we are not hopeful, and finally, we are working toward a final ultimatum.” In the past, Hosseinian has been one of Ahmadinejad’s most ardent defenders in the parliament. [Emphasis added.]

Still, even though, according to Abdo, Ahmadinejad represents a threats to a medieval, insular Islamic Republic ruled by clerics, such a regime might actually be preferable to Ahmadinejad. Abdo again.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but Khamenei’s survival and that of the clerical system is in the West’s interest. The alternative — a highly militarized state run by the Revolutionary Guards — would be much worse.