Here comes the hysteria and bold-faced lies. In the wake of the Iranian election, various commentators and so-called reporters in the United States are reacting as if the end of the world was at hand. Although nobody knows for certain and everyone only has the words of Western press pundits and an angry candidate to go by, virtually every mainstream US news source is calling the re-election of Ahmadinejad the result of fraud. There has been no verification of this from any objective source, nor has there been any proof beyond the speculation of media folks who either want to create a story or are so convinced of what they believe to be the incumbent’s essentially evil nature that they can not comprehend his re-election. A good example of this is a story by Bill Keller in the New York Times. In that piece, Ahmadinejad was once again incorrectly called a Holocaust-denier and his support was put down as being comprised mostly of women-hating peasants and civil servants who somehow benefited from his patronage. The liberal reformer Moussavi’s supporters were portrayed in a considerably more favorable light.
Completely missing from Keller’s piece and many other pieces in the US mainstream media (and liberal magazines like The Nation) is any genuine attempt to analyze both the class nature of the different candidates’ supporters and the role Washington plays in the media’s perception of Iranian politics. Keller’s most honest analytical statement in his entire piece: “Saturday was a day of smoldering anger, crushed hopes and punctured illusions, from the streets of Tehran to the policy centers of Western capitals.” Keller and his fellow journalists accept that the desires of Western capitals, especially Washington, should be important to Iranians. While this may certainly be the case among a small number of the intelligentsia and business community in Iran, the fact is that the West, especially Washington, is still not very popular among the Iranian masses. Not only are they aware of decades of Western intervention in their affairs, the fact that thousands of US troops continue to battle forces in two of Iran’s neighbors makes Washington unwanted and detested. Why should they do anything to please it? Yet, in the minds of the US news media, it is Washington’s needs that dominate all discussion.
As for the class analysis, rightly or wrongly, Ahmadinejad seems to appeal to the majority of peasants and workers in Iran. Just like Marat and the Jacobins appealed to the peasants and urban poor during the French revolution while Brissot and the Girondins appealed to the merchants and educated classes, Ahmadinejad’s support comes from those who need bread while Moussavi’s comes from those with plenty of bread and now want more civil liberties. While it is arguably true that Ahmadinejad’s policies have caused as many economic problems as they have solved, the fact remains that his supporters believe in his 2005 campaign call to bring the oil profits to the dinner table. Mr. Moussavi’s statements regarding the eventual reduction of commodity subsidies that benefit the poor may have hurt him in that demographic more than his supporters acknowledge. In a Washington Post article published the day before the election, it was noted (along with the fact that Ahmadinejad won the 2005 election with a “surprising” 62% of the vote) that his economic policies included the distribution of “loans, money and other help for local needs.” One of these programs involved providing insurance to women who make rugs in their homes and had been without insurance until Ahmadinejad came to power. Critics, including Moussavi, argue that his “free-spending policies have fueled inflation and squandered windfall petrodollars without reducing unemployment.” There are other elements at play here, including the fabled corruption of certain unelected leaders in Iran and the role the international economic crisis plays in each and every nation’s economy — a factor from which Iran is not immune. In addition, the particular nature of an Islamic economy that blends government and private business creates a constant conflict between those who would nationalize everything and those who would privatize it all.
In regard to what this means for relations between Washington and Tehran — they will continue down whatever path Mr. Obama wishes them to go. Tel Aviv, which criticized the election results, would not have changed its desire to quash Tehran no matter who won. Indeed, the fact that Ahmadinejad was re-elected makes it easier for Tel Aviv to continue demonizing the only genuine threat to its dominance of the region. The bottom line, however, is that the president of Iran really has no power in the course Iranian foreign policy takes. That power remains with the Council of Guardians and the Supreme Leader. Mr. Obama would do well to continue his attempts to negotiate without conditions. He would also be wise to end any covert activity against the Iranian government currently being conducted. The Western media would do well to inform themselves of the real nature of Iranian politics and society, instead of taking the viewpoint that what’s best for Washington is best for Tehran. Then again, that media should consider the non-Washington viewpoint in all of its international coverage.
For the Left, the answer is clear. The situation in Iran has changed. The apparent popularity of Moussavi and other officially recognized reformers showed this before the election. The dispute over the truth of the election results proves this even further. However, neither Ahmadinejad nor Moussavi represents a genuine move away from the power of the bazaar class and its appointed clerical council. The desire for more civil freedoms must be coordinated with the need for economic justice. Both of these aspirations seem to be currently at odds.
Only a leftist movement is capable of bringing the two together in a nation divided between its cities and its countryside, between its middle class and its workers and rural dwellers. This was the case prior to the takeover of the Iranian revolution by socially conservative religious forces in 1980 and it remains the case today.
Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch‘s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.