– 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.
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.