A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 21, 2013

Gary Sick: Is the Supreme Leader Really So Supreme?

We've seen a fair amount of commentary belittling the importance of Rouhani's election in Iran, along the lines of "The Supreme Leader has all the power so it doesn't matter." Gary Sick takes a somewhat contrarian position: "Is the Supreme Leader Really So Supreme?" A few excerpts:
With the surprising Iranian election over, and the moderate Hassan Rouhani elected by a clear majority, a new narrative is emerging. It asserts that absolutely nothing has changed, that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, let the election proceed for his own devious reasons, and that only he can make decisions about Iran’s strategic policies, regardless of who is president.

This is a facile and self-serving argument. After Friday’s election, which reversed all predictions, those of us who watch Iran closely should ask ourselves whether the supreme leader is as supreme as he pretends . . .
But it is not only the election. Just look at the record. Over the past 15 years, Iran has pursued a series of quite different negotiating strategies with the West: from a temporary suspension of enrichment under the new president-elect, to an on-again-off-again offer to compromise on 20 percent enrichment that resulted in a formal offer via Turkey and Brazil, then a full court stall and “resistance” strategy under the stewardship of the now-forgettable Saeed Jalili. The one constant during all these episodes was the unquestioned supremacy of one man.
This is the same man who reportedly mobilized Revolutionary Guard support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 to avoid the threat of a new reformist surge. He then presided over the hasty coronation of the same man, under an even more immediate threat of reform, in 2009, proclaiming the results “divine.” He then turned around and began systematically stripping all powers from the recipient of that divine judgment, humiliating him and pondering openly the possibility of doing away entirely with the very office of the presidency. Eventually he came to view his divine choice as part of a “deviant current.”
 Read the whole thing: agree or disagree, it's a useful corrective to the emerging conventional wisdom.

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