OpinionMiddle East

The Iran lie

Iran's sham presidential election is an attempt to put one over on the Biden administration.

Newly-elected Iranian President Masoud Pezeshkian gestures during a visit to the shrine of the Islamic Republic's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran on July 6, 2024. Credit: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images.
Newly-elected Iranian President Masoud Pezeshkian gestures during a visit to the shrine of the Islamic Republic's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran on July 6, 2024. Credit: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images.
Eric Levine
Eric Levine
Eric R. Levine is a founding member of the New York City law firm Eiseman, Levine, Lehrhaupt & Kakoyiannis, P.C. He is an essayist, political commentator and fundraiser for Republican candidates with an emphasis on the U.S. Senate.

If the recent elections in France and the United Kingdom—and the upcoming presidential election in the United States—prove anything, it is that elections have consequences.

That is only true, however, for elections in which voters have a choice between competing visions and policy prescriptions. When the results are foreordained or predetermined, elections are utterly meaningless.

To prove this point, one need look no further than the presidential runoff election held this past week in Iran between Masoud Pezeshkian (the supposedly “reformist” candidate) and Saeed Jalili (the supposedly “ultraconservative” candidate). Iran’s election was neat, simple, peaceful and well-organized. It was also a complete sham.

While Pezeshkian, the “moderate,” defeated his “ultraconservative” rival, the Iranian people were never offered any choice between competing visions, policies and/or futures.

The absence of any meaningful differences between the candidates should come as a surprise to no one. Iran is a theocratic dictatorship. As such, the domestic and foreign policies of the country are determined by its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Neither the ayatollah nor the Guardian Council, the ones with the unfettered power to determine who can run for office, would ever have allowed Pezeshkian to run if he deviated even an iota from any important official Iranian policy or questioned in the slightest the Supreme Leader’s authority.

The new president and his “ultraconservative” rival both professed undying loyalty and total fealty to Khamenei. They both advocated Iranian hegemony over the Middle East, the destruction of Israel, and the upending of the rules-based, American-led world order.

At most, Pezeshkian suggested minor policy changes at the margins, which amounted to little or nothing. For example, while he “criticized” the clubbing of women to death for failing to wear the hijab (head covering) in public, he proposed only modest changes to the policy.

Even this made him appear “moderate” in comparison with Jalili. But Pezeshkian’s “changes” must be put into the context of how he embraced his ultraconservative predecessor, the late Ebrahim Raisi, throughout the election process. Raisi was a staunch advocate of punishing and brutalizing women who failed to dress appropriately.

The single greatest difference between the two candidates was allegedly their approach to foreign policy. Pezeshkian advocates engaging with the West while Jalili adopted a more confrontational approach. It is a distinction without a difference.

At the same time the new Iranian president calls for engagement, he continues to praise Raisi and his foreign policy achievements. Before being killed in a helicopter accident, Raisi was well known for his confrontational approach to the United States and its allies.

Moreover, Pezeshkian has indicated he will choose Abbas Araghchi as his foreign minister. Putting aside that Araghchi will require the “advice and consent” of the ayatollah before taking up the post, he is also a favorite of Iran’s conservatives.

The notion that Pezeshkian will advance a foreign policy fundamentally different from that of his “ultraconservative” predecessor is a pipe dream.

It is all form over substance. Was Hitler a “moderate” when he sat down with Neville Chamberlain in Munich? Did he turn into an “ultraconservative” only when he invaded Poland and started to exterminate the Jews? It was all part of the same grand plan by the same maniacal regime to achieve the goal of world domination.

Following in Hitler’s footsteps, Pezeshkian’s renewed engagement with the West is designed to advance Iran’s hegemonic goals in the region, destroy Israel and undermine the American-led world order.

We’ve seen this movie before.

During the Obama years, the American people were told that we had to strengthen the hand of the “moderates” in Iran to avoid war. It was a pretext for President Barack Obama to make a deal with Iran, push back against Israel and create a seismic shift in American foreign policy in the region from an Israel-centric policy to an Iran-centric policy.

Anyone critical of the Obama policy—continued by President Joe Biden—was portrayed either as a troglodyte, a bigot or a warmonger. After all, if the choice is dealing with moderates or going to war, anyone who counseled against the Iran nuclear deal was counseling for war.

At the time Israel, through its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, warned against making a deal with the “moderates.” Ipso facto, following the Obama logic, Israel and Netanyahu were pushing America to war.

Of course, the whole premise of the existence of Iranian moderates was a lie. The Obama team, led by John Kerry, Antony Blinken, Robert Malley and Jake Sullivan knew there were no “moderates.” All of them, except for Malley—who has had his security clearance revoked and may have been an Iranian asset—are now serving the Biden White House.

Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes made clear in an interview with The New York Times in May 2016 that Obama and his team completely made up the story about Iranian moderates. They knew that a compliant press would repeat the lie. Rhodes admitted: “We created an echo chamber. … [The press] were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.” That gave Obama the time and space he needed to negotiate the Iran deal and ram it down the throats of the American people over strong bipartisan opposition in Congress.

The Obama/Biden team has never forgiven Netanyahu for calling out the flaws in the nuclear deal and embarrassing Obama. In other words, Netanyahu called out the lie. He is still paying a political price for that. It largely explains why the Biden administration often goes out of its way to attack him.

So why are the Iranian mullahs looking to bring the “moderates” back to power? The mullahs clearly anticipate a second Donald Trump term. They did not need the pretext of “moderates” during the Biden years, thanks to Biden’s policy of appeasement. In contrast, Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” deeply concerns Tehran. By putting so-called “moderates” in charge, the ayatollah hopes to undermine Trump and Israel at home and in Europe. Iran will argue that Trump and Israel are choosing war over peace. Trump and Israel will be portrayed as war-loving extremists in comparison to the supposedly reasonable, peace-loving government of Iran.

As we have seen from the Hamas supporters in Congress, on our college campuses, in the streets of our cities and in capitals around the world, there will be no shortage of useful idiots ready to jump onto the ayatollah’s propaganda bandwagon. After all, these people do not just hate Israel. They hate America as well.

It is up to the rest of us to call out Iran’s lie.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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