A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Brief Word to Start the Week: Give Rouhani a Chance to Prove Himself

I'm sure we'll be saying a lot more on this subject, and much more since so much happened over the weekend. But after the initial surprise at Hassan Rouhani's first-round victory, the usual suspects started writing op-eds about he's not really a "reformist" ("moderate" is his own preference anyway), he's not a liberal democrat (you were expecting maybe Hubert Humphrey?); he's faithful to the Islamic system (well, duh, he made it past the Council of Guardians); and the Supreme Leader holds the real power (what part of "Supreme Leader" don't you understand?).

But the usual suspects are the same people urging war with Iran, by us or Israel or both. (Daniel Pipes "endorsed" Jalili since he thought he'd make things worse: I'm not kidding.)

Let me suggest we give Rouhani at least a "honeymoon" period to show us how much of his (impressive) campaign rhetoric was real, and how much his first round victory lets him push for it. Yes, Khamenei has the power. But Khamenei had a hardline President for the past eight years who gave him no end of trouble, and a moderate might be less of a pain in the Supreme Leadership than Ahmadinejad was.

It's true that Mohammad Khatami's election in 1997 was by a heavy margin and he was re-elected in 2001, yet was constantly frustrated in his attempts at reform. Yet he did moderate Iran's relations with the outside world, and the nuclear issue was less confrontational (and Rouhani was his nuclear negotiator). Even if Rouhani is as circumscribed as Khatami was, those days were better domestically and internationally than the subsequent eight years of Ahmadinejad. But Khamenei had far rockier relations with Ahmadinejad in his second term, at least overtly, than with Khatami. Who can say what happens next? Perhaps the Supreme Leader is even ready for compromise on the nuclear issue, and in any event wants a change in tone.

I don't know. The war hawks don't know either. I'm not sure Rouhani even knows. But before everyone piles on with opinions saying Rouhani's not a savior (which he hasn't claimed to be, anyway), let's let him show us what he can do and what he has in mind.

Something sure as hell happened in the Iranian elections. Before we dismiss the results, let's find out what it means first.

1 comment:

Kayvon Afshari said...

Rouhani was broadly positive about engagement with the US during his press conference, as was Obama on Charlie Rose. Glad to see an opening in US-Iran relations.