Man of the Year?

I am currently watching a really self-indulgent program on CNN in which they take cameras behind the scenes at TIME magazine while the editors deliberate who should be the TIME Man of the Year. It is kind of a sad personal admission. But there it is.

In any event, right now they are rolling through the finalists and one of the figures being debated as a potential “Man of the Year” is Iranian President and demagogic scourge Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, if selected, the editors think would stand for the rise of Shiism as a force in the Middle East and the growing trend of nations hostile to the United States implacably pursuing nuclear weapons. Fair enough. But it occurs to me, and it is more a hunch than it is borne out by an overwhelming array of facts, that Ahmadinejad will be an historical footnote – at best – in five years. He is a product of the moment, an unfortunate consequence of America being in a weakened position on the heels of the Iraq debacle.

Of course, the important question when it comes to Iran has always been how much power does Ahmadinejad actually wield. The Iranian governing system is notoriously ambiguous. To the outside eye – and maybe the inside eye – it is maddeningly difficult to ascertain who is holding the cards, especially when it comes to forging foreign policy. My completely arm chair, no doubt ill-informed, sense is that the clerical circles who actually control policy see Ahmadinejad’s (completely sincere) madman routine as beneficial in the current political climate. I simply do not think this dynamic can sustain itself. He will become a liability. He is already an embarrassment to many Iranians. Turnout for the city council elections is very high, suggesting strong support for reform candidates. It is not a vote cast with enthusiasm, but it is a significant decision to cast a vote. After the disillusioning reign of Khatami many in the reform movement simply checked-out of politics. Now, as one voter told The New York Times, it is a choice between “bad and worse.” But it is a choice.

On a related note, much of the chatter about the Iraq Study Group report has focused on their recommendation that the Bush administration talk to Iran and explain how it is in their interest to prevent the bloody dissolution of Iraq. Condi Rice made clear in an interview last week with The Washington Post that there will be no new diplomatic initiatives with Tehran, saying the “compensation” required by any deal might be too high. While it is ridiculous to base foreign policy on what “might” be the case (unclear if this was Rice’s language or the Post‘s) it is equally ludicrous to believe that Tehran will do anything to alleviate the American predicament in Iraq. It is unclear what they could even do to help if they wanted to. Iraq is solvable from the outside. It is an Iraqi problem (which is also why the notion that movement on the Palestinian-Israeli front will have any bearing on what happens in Baghdad is ridiculous. More American resources should be invested in that arena, but not because of Iraq, but because it is smart policy and the right thing to do.)

(In the off-chance you care, TIME selected “you” as person of the year.)

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