As you may have read, Iran held its “election” for president last Friday; it was won by a notorious human rights abuser who detests the United States and Israel and is currently under American sanctions – Ebrahim Raisi. I put “election” in quotes for the simple reason that Iranian elections are no elections at all. They are as rigged as they come, from the government-approved candidate list, to the deliberate suppression of all opposition groups, to the likelihood of a falsified vote count. You may have issues with American elections – whether they are voter suppression or voter fraud – but it is clear that what passes for an “election” in Iran is nothing of the sort; it is merely a rubber-stamping exercise meant to ratify the choice of the theocratic fascist regime of Ayatollah Khamenei.
What most interests me with this news is not the internal dynamics of Iranian politics – as I said, all politicians there are mere proxies for the Supreme Leader – but the American coverage of the election and political dynamics, as well as the implications for Iranian relations and negotiations with the Biden administration. First, a brief sidebar on the media’s labeling of Iranian politicians as “hardliners”, “conservatives”, or “moderates”. These labels are entirely meaningless, as Iranian policy is set not by “elected” officials, but by the security state, the religious authorities, and the Ayatollah himself. Many here in the West make a big deal about the politicians who “run” Iran and whether they are more associated with rapprochement with the West or antagonism. That labeling only serves to camouflage the real power in the Islamic Republic and promotes the idea that Iran is just another country like all others, instead of the reality, which is that Iran is a theocratic autocracy that brutally represses its citizens and harbors genocidal intentions towards the Jews of Israel. As such, Iranian “elections” are a facade for the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and religious leadership. No matter who “wins” Iran’s presidential contest, Iranian policy remains in the hands of the true power brokers. In the immortal words of the British rock band The Who: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Now onto the implications of this “election” for the US. As I have written before, the Biden administration is currently engaged in negotiations for an American return to the heavily-flawed Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), something which I heartily oppose. Their newly-elected negotiating partner, Ebrahim Raisi, is crystal clear about where he stands on these negotiations and what the Iranians are willing to give up: nothing. Raisi has firmly stated that Iran will not negotiate at all about its burgeoning ballistic missile program (targeted directly at destroying Israel), will put a time limit on the negotiations with the Biden team in Vienna, and refuses to halt or reduce its malign activity in the region – from funding terrorist groups, to supporting proxy wars against its enemies, to indirectly attacking American and allied troops in the Middle East. According to the BBC: “Mr Raisi urged the US to immediately return to the deal and lift all the sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. When asked if he would meet President Joe Biden if it did so, he replied: ‘No.'” There could hardly be a clearer determination that Iran is seeking the capitulation of the United States, not an actual negotiation.
If the Biden team presses forward with their plan to unilaterally eliminate sanctions and return to the JCPOA, they will rightfully be seen as naive fools who have fallen hook, line, and sinker for Iranian lies and manipulations. The Biden administration should immediately stop negotiations unless the Iranians undertake them in good faith, something in short supply in Tehran. The fact that they won’t says a lot more about American power and courage (or lack thereof) than it does about Iran. The capitulation continues apace.