- The Washington Times - Friday, June 12, 2009


It doesn’t really matter who wins today’s presidential election in Iran. No matter the outcome, Tehran’s foreign policy will not change and the nation’s people will remain oppressed. While Iran has the trappings of democracy with an elected legislature and highly visible president, actual political control remains in the solid grip of the radical Islamist leadership.

As American Foreign Policy Council vice president for policy Ilan Berman wrote in the American Spectator yesterday: “Whoever ends up becoming president will have little real power - and even less influence over Iran’s geostrategic direction.”

It is encouraging to see the Iranian people embracing their limited power by going to the polls. But the theocracy headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei oversees all major policy decisions and significant governmental functions, including the management of key ministries such as the intelligence and defense services along with the appointment of all foreign ministers.

Former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is positioned as a reformist, but his candidacy was approved by Iran’s Council of Guardians like everyone else running for office. Under the Iranian constitution, the Council of Guardians - which reviews all statutes passed by the legislature - is functionally controlled by the Ayatollah Khamenei, who appoints six members of the board. The remaining members are chosen by the head of the mullah-controlled judiciary and ratified by the legislature. Any disagreements are decided by the country’s Expediency Council, whose members are also appointed by the ayatollah.

The moderate inclinations of the Iranian people were on display in the street this week. Mr. Mousavi’s decision to campaign with his wife highlights the potential influence of the country’s long-repressed women. His open attacks on Mr. Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and isolating Iran from the world are equally heartening. But for the time being, public opinion only means so much.

The power of the mullahs is entrenched and unwavering. The crackdown on activists and opposition figures ahead of this election reminds that little has changed in the tyrannical Islamic Republic. President Obama should keep this in mind as he supports Iran’s “right” to a nuclear program, as he did in his Cairo speech last week.

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