By Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour (source: Iran Review)
How White House analyzed presidential polls in Iran
The eleventh presidential election in Iran, which was held on June 14, 2013, can be considered a turning point in the course of Iran’s domestic and foreign relations. Following the election, major changes took place in Iran’s domestic and foreign political milieus. Now, analysts are openly asserting that the new Iranian administration will set a new direction for the country’s foreign policy approaches. There are also widespread speculations about the new combination of Iranian officials who will be soon in charge of the country’s foreign policy apparatus. The Iranian presidential election and its final outcome were welcomed far and wide across the world with Israel being the sole exception. In the meantime, the reaction shown by the United States, not only on an official level, but also by less official political players in the United States, was quite remarkable. Since the United States political system is a complex and multilayered system, various aspects and angels of political relations in that country should be taken into account in order to answer this important question: “How the US reaction to the results of 2013 presidential election in Iran can be analyzed?” To answer this question and assess various reactions which have been shown to Iran’s presidential election by the American political circles, three general frameworks should be taken advantage of. These frameworks include:
- An analytical framework; that is, how Iran presidential election was analyzed in the United States;
- A strategic framework; namely, what effect will the presidential election in Iran have on strategic relations between Iran and the United States; and finally,
- A political framework; which means how the impact of the aforesaid election on political dynamism in Iran’s relations with the United States can be assessed. This framework actually sheds light on the possible reaction that the United States will show to the outcome of presidential polls in Iran.
The issue of elections in Iran had turned into a hot topic of discussion for the multitude of American research institutes and organizations from quite a while before the election was even held. Most of those organizations and institutes, however, took a cold and preformed approach to presidential election in Iran. This means that, at first, the American research bodies claimed that the election in Iran had been engineered to the extent that even the person who would emerge victorious was already determined. Many analysts working with different research centers analyzed Iran’s presidential election along the line of the American views. However, the actual result of presidential polls in the Islamic Republic was undoubtedly an analytical shock to those who believed that there is no “election” in Iran, but “selection.” The proponents of this way of thinking included many American experts who gave their viewpoints on the political developments in Iran. Save for a few exceptions, none of the American analysts were able to come up with an accurate analysis of the election in Iran since they were unable to predict its ultimate result. In fact, the aforesaid analytical shock clearly proved the inefficiency of analytical mechanisms which are used by many American researchers when it comes to Iran. This is not the first time that Iran has taken analytical institutions of the United States by surprise. The element of surprise means that their analytical efforts have fallen short of predicting the main lines along which the politics in Iran move.
Of course, it should be noted that many of such analytical efforts are based on clearly political and ideological interests and viewpoints. In other words, the collection of analytical pieces which one sees in the run-up to the Iranian presidential election are based on the interests of special groups in the United States which pursue specific political goals. However, the result of the recent presidential polls in Iran and the analytical shock resulting from it have caused another type of analysis to emerge in the United States. As a result, in a short period of time, certain interest groups, especially those promoting Israel’s interests in the United States, have been trying to come up with a specific framework for the Iranian election and the president-elect and they used, and keep using, a special “framing” effort to do this. As a result, following the election of Dr. Hassan Rouhani as the new Iranian president, American analysts have been alleging in their numerous analytical reports that in Iran, the president plays no important part. At the same time, they have been trying to undermine the personality of the Iranian president through publications which come out of various research institutes. They, however, ignore that such framing effort is plagued by a host of analytical flaws. In accordance with the Iranian Constitution, the main framework of Iran’s general policies are set by the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei]. However, according to ordinary laws as well as the political customs, the president plays a crucial part in all issues related to the Iranian foreign policy. He is symbolic representative of the Islamic Republic in international relations, plays an important executive part in the management of various bodies in charge of Iran’s foreign policy, and also plays a role in designing and offering Iran’s foreign policy strategies within the general framework of the Islamic establishment. However, later analyses written by the American analysts have tried regularly to play down the role of the Iranian president. Therefore, on the whole, the dynamism of Iran’s domestic policy as well as contemporary political structures, institutions, and culture of Iran are the main elements which have been largely ignored by the analytical framework used in the United States as a result of which they have failed to attach due significance to these factors. This analytical framework, however, is undoubtedly in close relation with the United States strategic approach to Iran and, therefore, should be carefully taken into consideration.
The election in Iran has not led to a major change in the mindset of the American strategists and their collective effort to introduce Iran as a perennial threat to the US interests has been the most consistent element in Washington’s strategy toward Iran. Of course, in addition to being unanimous about the so-called Iran threat and their alarming approach to Iran, there are differences among American strategists with regard to the quality of Iran threat, the degree and urgency of Iran threat, as well as the best way to deal with what they conceive as Iran threat. For this reason, nobody can claim that the recent election in Iran has had no effect on the mindset of strategists in the United States. The result of the recent election will face those American strategists who insisted on the urgency of Iran threat with serious challenges. As a result, serious cracks are sure to appear in their warmongering views and in the effort they were making to radicalize and militarize the United States’ approach to Iran. Of course, this does not mean that they will remain silent. Their strategic framework, which has its roots in a static viewpoint that considers Iran as a perennial threat to the United States, is closely and clearly related to the mainframe of the United States policies. This is why we must pay special and concurrent attention to the totality of the political players in the United States and the election results in Iran.
Although the United States is apparently following an official policy on Iran and that policy is formulated by the Department of State or the White House, it has within itself a host of players that, in turn, assume various forms of individual, institutional, and organizational forms. There is no doubt that when it comes to Iran there are differences and even conflicts between the American executive and legislative bodies. Of course, there are strong strategic ties between them at the same time. Special interest groups supporting Israel inside the US Congress were doing their best to escalate sanctions against Iran through all the stages of Iran election. The same course has been followed by them after the election as well. Their main goal is to tie the hands of the US President [Barack Obama] so that he would not be able to engage in any form of interaction with Iran in the wake of the political developments in the country which result from the recent election. At the same time, it is an undeniable reality that at present, the tide is against such interest groups and those groups which had spared no effort to stoke US-Iran confrontation have been marginalized. Marginalization of such radical groups within the American society should not be taken lightly.
It is under these conditions that certain political circles in the United States have started to talk about the possibility of direct interaction with Iran. Although they have also considered many conditions for such an interaction, the mere talk about the possibility of interaction is a remarkable achievement. Now, let’s have a look at the tug of war between political forces in Iran which believe in the confrontation with the United States and those that advocate interaction. It seems that subsequent to the recent presidential election, the general atmosphere has been gradually changing in favor of the proponents of interaction. Considerable here is the clear hastiness and indignation of many Israeli groups, especially rightist Israeli political groups. Even the slightest prospect of the possibility of reduction of tension between the United States and Iran stirs serious concern among this group of political forces. As a result, they try to use every means available to them, including various means of propaganda, political rhetoric and verbal threats in order to roll the situation back to its previous state.
What will be the final result and outcome of such political skirmishes? This issue is not simply limited to the decision of these players and the quality of their political behavior inside the United States. There are also regional forces which play a considerable role in this regard. When it comes to the immediate neighborhood of Iran, especially the Arab world, there is a possibility for the opening up of relations between Arab states and Iran and remarkable expansion of interaction space. Although in some cases (especially with regard to the situation in Syria in which regional players and the United States are at odds with Iran) this space may become especially complicated and narrow the possibility of interaction. However, it should be noted that the political forces which make up the diverse spectrum of the United States politics are not the sole forces which can determine the final result of the game in this political chess. One of the most effective and important factors in this political chess is the type of the action that Iran will take as a political player. It seems that by continued pursuit of the specific goals of its foreign policy, but through a different and updated organization, Iran will be able to have a considerable effect on this game. Of course, this would depend on regulating Iran’s foreign policy discourse and behavior, in general, especially with regard to more complicated issues of international relations.
*Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour is the former Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative for the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations in Geneva. Prior to taking up this post, he was the Director of the Institute for Political and International Studies, the research branch of Iran’s Foreign Ministry. Seyed Sajjadpour received his Ph.D. in political science from George Washington University and was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard. He has taught at the College of International Relations of Tehran University, as well as at Azad University and Iran’s National Defense University.
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