Ahmadinejad won. Get over it


– Flynt Leverett directs The New America Foundation’s Iran Project and teaches international affairs at Pennsylvania State university. Hillary Mann Leverett is CEO of STRATEGA, a political risk consultancy. Both worked for many years on Middle East issues for the U.S. government, including as members of the National Security Council staff. The views expressed are their own. —

This article originally appeared on Politico.com.

Without any evidence, many U.S. politicians and “Iran experts” have dismissed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection Friday, with 62.6 percent of the vote, as fraud.mousavi

They ignore the fact that Ahmadinejad’s 62.6 percent of the vote in this year’s election is essentially the same as the 61.69 percent he received in the final count of the 2005 presidential election, when he trounced former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The shock of the “Iran experts” over Friday’s results is entirely self-generated, based on their preferred assumptions and wishful thinking.

Although Iran’s elections are not free by Western standards, the Islamic Republic has a 30-year history of highly contested and competitive elections at the presidential, parliamentary and local levels. Manipulation has always been there, as it is in many other countries.
But upsets occur — as, most notably, with Mohammed Khatami’s surprise victory in the 1997 presidential election. Moreover, “blowouts” also occur — as in Khatami’s reelection in 2001,
Ahmadinejad’s first victory in 2005 and, we would argue, this year.

Like much of the Western media, most American “Iran experts” overstated Mirhossein Mousavi’s “surge” over the campaign’s final weeks. More important, they were oblivious — as in 2005 — to Ahmadinejad’s effectiveness as a populist politician and campaigner. American “Iran experts” missed how Ahmadinejad was perceived by most Iranians as having won the nationally televised debates with his three opponents — especially his debate with Mousavi.

Before the debates, both Mousavi and Ahmadinejad campaign aides indicated privately that they perceived a surge of support for Mousavi; after the debates, the same aides concluded that Ahmadinejad’s provocatively impressive performance and Mousavi’s desultory one had boosted the incumbent’s standing. Ahmadinejad’s charge that Mousavi was supported by Rafsanjani’s sons — widely perceived in Iranian society as corrupt figures — seemed to play well with voters.
Similarly, Ahmadinejad’s criticism that Mousavi’s reformist supporters, including Khatami, had been willing to suspend Iran’s uranium enrichment program and had won nothing from the West for doing so tapped into popular support for the program — and had the added advantage of being true.

More fundamentally, American “Iran experts” consistently underestimated Ahmadinejad’s base of support. Polling in Iran is notoriously difficult; most polls there are less than fully professional and, hence, produce results of questionable validity. But the one poll conducted before Friday’s election by a Western organization that was transparent about its methodology — a telephone poll carried out by the Washington-based Terror-Free Tomorrow from May 11 to 20 — found Ahmadinejad running 20 points ahead of Mousavi. This poll was conducted before the televised debates in which, as noted above, Ahmadinejad was perceived to have done well while Mousavi did poorly.

American “Iran experts” assumed that “disastrous” economic conditions in Iran would undermine Ahmadinejad’s reelection prospects. But the International Monetary Fund projects that Iran’s economy will actually grow modestly this year (when the economies of most Gulf Arab states are in recession).

A significant number of Iranians — including the religiously pious, lower-income groups, civil servants and pensioners — appear to believe that Ahmadinejad’s policies have benefited them.

And, while many Iranians complain about inflation, the TFT poll found that most Iranian voters do not hold Ahmadinejad responsible. The “Iran experts” further argue that the high turnout on June 12 — 82 percent of the electorate — had to favor Mousavi. But this line of analysis reflects nothing more than assumptions.

Some “Iran experts” argue that Mousavi’s Azeri background and “Azeri accent” mean that he was guaranteed to win Iran’s Azeri-majority provinces; since Ahmadinejad did better than Mousavi in these areas, fraud is the only possible explanation.

But Ahmadinejad himself speaks Azeri quite fluently as a consequence of his eight years serving as a popular and successful official in two Azeri-majority provinces; during the campaign, he artfully quoted Azeri and Turkish poetry — in the original — in messages designed to appeal to Iran’s Azeri community. (And we should not forget that the supreme leader is Azeri.) The notion that Mousavi was somehow assured of victory in Azeri-majority provinces is simply not grounded in reality.

With regard to electoral irregularities, the specific criticisms made by Mousavi — such as running out of ballot paper in some precincts and not keeping polls open long enough (even though polls stayed open for at least three hours after the announced closing time) — could not, in themselves, have tipped the outcome so clearly in Ahmadinejad’s favor.

Moreover, these irregularities do not, in themselves, amount to electoral fraud even by American legal standards. And, compared with the U.S. presidential election in Florida in 2000, the flaws in Iran’s electoral process seem less significant.

In the wake of Friday’s election, some “Iran experts” — perhaps feeling burned by their misreading of contemporary political dynamics in the Islamic Republic — argue that we are witnessing a “conservative coup d’état,” aimed at a complete takeover of the Iranian state.

But one could more plausibly suggest that if a “coup” is being attempted, it has been mounted by the losers in Friday’s election. It was Mousavi, after all, who declared victory on Friday even before Iran’s polls closed. And three days before the election, Mousavi supporter Rafsanjani published a letter criticizing the leader’s failure to rein in Ahmadinejad’s resort to “such ugly and sin-infected phenomena as insults, lies and false allegations.” Many Iranians took this letter as an indication that the Mousavi camp was concerned their candidate had fallen behind in the campaign’s closing days.

In light of these developments, many politicians and “Iran experts” argue that the Obama administration cannot now engage the “illegitimate” Ahmadinejad regime. Certainly, the administration should not appear to be trying to “play” in the current controversy in Iran about the election. In this regard, President Barack Obama’s comments on Friday, a few hours before the polls closed in Iran, that “just as has been true in Lebanon, what can be true in Iran as well is that you’re seeing people looking at new possibilities” was extremely maladroit.

From Tehran’s perspective, this observation undercut the credibility of Obama’s acknowledgment, in his Cairo speech earlier this month, of U.S. complicity in overthrowing a democratically elected Iranian government and restoring the shah in 1953.

The Obama administration should vigorously rebut any argument against engaging Tehran following Friday’s vote. More broadly, Ahmadinejad’s victory may force Obama and his senior advisers to come to terms with the deficiencies and internal contradictions in their approach to Iran. Before the Iranian election, the Obama administration had fallen for the same illusion as many of its predecessors — the illusion that Iranian politics is primarily about personalities and finding the right personality to deal with. That is not how Iranian politics works.

The Islamic Republic is a system with multiple power centers; within that system, there is a strong and enduring consensus about core issues of national security and foreign policy, including Iran’s nuclear program and relations with the United States. Any of the four candidates in Friday’s election would have continued the nuclear program as Iran’s president; none would agree to its suspension.

Any of the four candidates would be interested in a diplomatic opening with the United States, but that opening would need to be comprehensive, respectful of Iran’s legitimate national security interests and regional importance, accepting of Iran’s right to develop and benefit from the full range of civil nuclear technology — including pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle — and aimed at genuine rapprochement.

Such an approach would also, in our judgment, be manifestly in the interests of the United States and its allies throughout the Middle East. It is time for the Obama administration to get serious about pursuing this approach — with an Iranian administration headed by the reelected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

© 2009 Capitol News Company LLC

Picture top right: A supporter of defeated presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi holds up a photograph of him while attending a rally in Tehran June 15, 2009. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Picture top left: Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad looks on during his first news conference after the presidential elections in Tehran June 14, 2009. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj


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“It’s 100% hypocritical to be anti-Iran and not anti-Saudi Arabia and Egypt.”

Only if you misuse the term ‘hypocrite’. If X says drinking is wrong, yet X drinks, that does not make X a hypocrite. Common mistake.

Was your point that egypt and saudi arabia repress their population? Or that America supports these nations? Or that the West tolerates dictators who act like good neighbours?

How does this change the fact that Iran is a repressive theocracy? And that many in the Left vocally support the actions of that regime?

The Americans are not hypocrites for supporting one dictator over another. Just good at playing politics.

True hypocracy is when a person criticises such behaviour of America, yet does not associate the negativity of such behaviour to their own support for Iran.

The key difference between hypocracy and vice is self-deception.

Posted by It makes you think | Report as abusive

it makes you think,

Thanks for the education on the definition on hypocritical, I’ll stick to what I thought before though.

Supporting our connections with the monsters that run Saudi Arabia and Egypt who do much worse things to their citizens and American terror suspects than Iran does seems odd to me for people who play the righteous card against Iran.

Changes nothing about Iran, but if you don’t support one you shouldn’t support the other just because they have puppet gov’ts.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

If we want to make any inroads in Iran we need to have real discussion. We should apologize to them for our past administrations actions in support of the shah. We interfered with their right to self determination which is the very foundation of our own government.

If we admit our mistakes then this puts the ball in the court of Iran. It would be up to them to open up to discussion. Iranians are just as sophisticated as Americans in many respects. To insult them by ignoring our own part in our bad relations is the height of hypocrisy. True dialog starts with honest words, humility, and genuinely good faith. We have shown little if any of these for far too long.

Well I find it odd that a person can support Iran’s regime, yet criticize America for supporting other such regimes.

So lets agree its an odd world, then.

Posted by It makes you think | Report as abusive

The best analysis so far on Iran elections, without any bias on either side. If what the the author says is true then other reporters have been involved in selective reporting of incidents and thus have been misguiding the public.
As for the authur’s suggestion of engaging with Iran. US should understand that it should deal with any country as equals. After all its a democracy and every one is equal. Similarly in the world democracy, all the countries are equal. Thus, if US can have nuclear weapons, then so can Iran.

Posted by Aman | Report as abusive

it makes you think,
I dunno if I was clear, I apologize if not, but I don’t support any of the 3 gov’ts I mentioned. Our allegiance with some has no affect on my judgement of the quality of gov’t.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

Try doing a google search for Iran and Benford’s law. There is pretty good statistical evidence that the numbers are fudged. Try doing some research, before complaining that stuff is just made up.

Posted by Justin | Report as abusive

I believe that America is right (in the political sense) to support the Saudis and the Egyptians, in order to maintain favourable relations with them.

It doesn’t mean that I support the way those governments operate. Given the choice, I would rather they be democratic. Given enough western influence, they may eventually turn out that way.

As Iran is neither democratic, nor America’s ally, there is no reason for America to support them. Especially when that nation is expressly working against American interests.

Perhaps some more simple-minded conservatives might play the “righteous” card as a blanket excuse. But politics is always more complicated then that.

Still, I can accept there are other views out there who may not agree with my own.

Posted by It makes you think | Report as abusive

I have been reading,listening and watching of recent effects of election results in Iran.
As per my knowledge goes, majority of protests were against the present Iran President ,created by certain western media,and from certain social websites.
Naturally,educated,well dressed, foreign Iranians,urban youth,adults had assembled in many notable points,conveyed their feelings to a defeated presidential candidate.
As on today!s reports,people are slowly coming back to normal.
Thanks for showing of their democratic feelings.
We have other works to do for general wellbeing.
Enough is enough.

let’s pretend ahmadi’s win was rigged. where is the actualy proof? besides the few complaints that we hear, which are pretty much heard in every country in every election. we have the same thing happen in every election here in the U.S including the most recent election of Obama.all these “experts” who were expecting Mousavi to win, what were these based on? oh phone polls in a country where half the country does not even access? please, let’s see the proof first and then we’ll talk

Posted by Hassan | Report as abusive

I feel that that Iranians living abroad not voting for Ahmadinejad is exactly what one should expect. They are not a representative sample of the population though. The reasons for leaving the country can be manifold, ranging from membership of Mujahedin Khalq to supporter of the exiled Shah. Also having to live in a traditional muslem society when brought-up in a westernised family could be a reason to grasp any opportunity to leave.
As obtaining a visa for EU countries and USA is extremely troublesome, one has to take recourse to seeking asylum and alleging prosecution by the administration for one reason or another.
Therefore I dismiss the implicit presumption that the Iranian electorate has cast their votes the same way as the Tehran elite, intelligentsia and Iranians living abroad.

Posted by adamant | Report as abusive

So again do the people who say the vote wasn’t rigged have any evidence other than the word of the Iranian state press?

Posted by Edward M. Blake | Report as abusive

Which planet are you guys from? Do you watch the news at all? Do you check youtube and the videos that are being posted by people from Iran at all? If you do then how could you be so ignorant and say that there is not evidence that the result had been rigged. If you have any doubts I can send you tons of evidence and accurate documents to prove that they have been. But I guess you guys are purposely trying to ignore the facts and play your nasty political games as you did during Bush’s administration. I read that in Bush’s Administration, Hillary Leverett worked as the Director for Iran, Afghanistan and Persian Gulf Affairs at the National Security Council. I am not surprised because at the same time US had the worst foreign policy in that region. With ignorant people like Hillary who closes her eyes on the facts, I am not surprised that you did so bad in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Posted by Naz | Report as abusive

I have written a comprehensive review of the evidence, entitled “Who Really Won the Disputed Iran Election?” in order to settle this conversation. Initially, it was an attempt to synthesize all of the arguments into a single location. I fully expected that, upon careful review of the evidence, the uncertainty in my mind as to the results would rise and I would make many concessions. It has not, and I have not.

The Leveretts are wrong. The evidence that they use does not support their argument. The evidence to the contrary is compelling. But that isn’t the alarming piece to this puzzle.

What is highly suspect is the level of certainty of the Leveretts’ arguments. When all other analysts are using words like “suspect,” or “troubling,” and most raise as many questions as they close, Flynt and Hillary Leverett argue with clarity what is absolutely unclear. With that in mind, one has to question their motivation and objectivity, as well as their relevancy in the continued dialog about the future of Iran.

http://www.dissectednews.com/2010/05/who -really-won-the-disputed-iran-election.h tml

Posted by DissectedNews1 | Report as abusive