Monday, August 04, 2008

Ansari on Ahmadinejad

My major project for the day has been reading Ali Ansari's Iran Under Ahmadinejad: The Politics of Confrontation, published in December 2007 as part of the International Institute for Strategic Studies's Adelphi Paper series. The book does not seriously reshape the views I have taken in my commentary on Iran, but does bring together a number of threads and places them solidly within the framework of Iran's post-revolution history.

Ansari portrays Ahmadinejad's rise against the legacies of his two immediate predecessors, both of whom his supporters regard as having corrupted the 1979 revolution. Of these, his opposition to the reformist legacy of Muhammad Khatami is well known, and it is for that reason the conservative faction supported him against Mehdi Karrubi and Mustafa Mo'in in the 2005 elections, if only after their other choices, Ali Larijani and Muhammad Baqir Qalibaf, faltered. Less well known, however, is his reaction against the mercantilist policies of Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who in the name of free markets helped make Iran into what Ansari has previously characterized as a kleptocracy, rather than a strict theocracy. While vote rigging helped put Ahmadinejad into the final round of 2005 voting, Rafsanjani's status as the incarnation of a corrupt and out-of-touch establishment is what prompted most Iranians to take a chance on Tehran's relatively unknown former mayor.

As the book's subtitle implies, Ahmadinejad has sought to use an atmosphere of foreign policy crisis to try and consolidate his position domestically, a strategy which worked through 2005 and 2006, but has gradually fallen apart as his economic mismanagement has not only alienated most of the Iranian public, but threatened the commercial interests that helped put him in power. As portrayed by Ansari, however, Ahmadinejad right now is a deluded egomaniac who, together with his core supporters both within and outside his administration, actually believes much of his rhetoric, holds odd millenarian religious beliefs, and has furthermore not abandoned the goal of making Iran economically self-sufficient, or otherwise acknowledged any errors in policy, either directly or by implication. For example, he sees the U.S. as in a reversible divinely ordained decline, and interprets out problems in Iraq in that light. At the same time, the regime has become increasingly repressive internally, as it is aware that it's popularity has waned significantly.

Here is Ansari's conclusion, which admittedly doesn't seem to follow squarely from the bulk of the text:
"When Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, there were some who argued that the reformist experiment had been an exercise in wishful thinking that had not reflected the reality of Iran, and that, with Ahmadinejad's election, the real, raw Iran had finally come to the foreground. This view is now a rarity, and crucially, the president's stock within his own faction is falling. Despite the extraordinary advantage afforded to him by high oil prices, Ahmadinejad has failed to achieve the defining goal of his presidency, to which all other principlist strategies had been subordinated: the establishment of the domestic hegemony of hardline conservatism. The populist had been invited to turn the faction's particular agenda into a national one - to restore the revolution to the true path. But Iran's revolutionary president has proved to be an anachronism, unwilling to recognize the changes that have transformed Iranian society. And it is these social transformations , which long predate Ahmadinejad's rise, that will ultimately determine the direction the country will take in the future.

"As his problems mount, Ahmadinejad will increasingly rely on the assets he and his supporters place the most faith in: his charisma and the cult of personality. Ahmadinejad still speaks the language of the poor and dispossessed, and his promises of utopia around the corner still have their power. Not for him a dialogue of civilizations, or talk of economic growth, but a complete solution to a total problem. Ahmadinejad can be interpreted as a consequence of the continuing crisis in Iran's mercantile capitalist system. He was a short-term solution to a long-term problem, but he may well prove more damaging to the very foundations of the Islamic Republic than his backers could ever have imagined.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home