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I'm glad Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won reelection as Iran's president. And he did it by a single vote.
I was rooting for Ahmadinejad, the demagogic Holocaust denier who wants to wipe Israel off the map, because a victory by the relatively moderate Mir Hussein Mousavi could have created a dangerous complacency that would tempt some in the West to ease up on the pressure to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions, although there is no evidence his views on that are any different than Ahmadinejad's.
Any change brought by Mousavi's election as far as key foreign policy, security and nuclear issues would be more style than substance.
In Iran's version of democracy the principle of "one man, one vote" means that of the millions of people who went to the polls last week, only one man's vote really counted, and that was cast by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for his protÃ©gÃ©, Ahmadinejad.
Khamenei and his circle of clerics handpicked all four candidates in last week's presidential election. Khamenei didn't even bother waiting for the votes to be counted before declaring his man had won a "sacred victory" by a landslide.
After a weekend of the largest and most violent demonstrations since the 1979 revolution, that saw Khamenei's religious police beat, gas and even shoot Mousavi's supporters, he promised to investigate possible election rigging.
But don't expect Mousavi, a longtime Khamenei rival, to get the new vote he wants, because the investigation will be conducted by the Guardian Council, which is headed by Ayatollah Ahmad Janneti, another prominent Ahmadinejad backer.
I'D LOVE to see a free and fair election in Iran, but until then I want Ahmadinejad to keep his job because he reminds us of the real threat posed by a regime that is intent on regional hegemony. With clients like Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas and other extremists, it threatens not only Israel but also American interests and Arab friends throughout the Middle East.
According to Mehdi Khalaji, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Khameini's message in declaring Ahmadinejad the winner was to tell the West, "Iran is digging in on its nuclear program" and its backing of Hizbullah and Hamas.
Journalist Jeffrey Goldberg has written that moderate Arab leaders have told him they want Ahmadinejad to stay in power because "his rhetoric helps make their case that Iran is a danger to them." Israeli leaders fear losing the poster boy for their campaign to impress upon the world the urgent need to act before Iran actually goes nuclear.
Ahmadinejad didn't disappoint them; he immediately announced he would not moderate his views and any discussion of Iran's nuclear policy "belongs in the past." The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which has made Iran its top issue for more than 15 years, hopes rhetoric like that will make easier to win votes for legislation it is pushing to toughen sanctions by restricting Iran's ability to import and produce refined petroleum products, although evidence for the effectiveness of tough sanctions has been scanty.
Keith Weissman, an Iran expert, said the election "revealed some serious cracks" in Iranian government and even if Ahmadinejad remains in power he could be weakened.
There is only circumstantial evidence of fraud, and we may never know the truth because there were no international observers, Weissman said, but it is surprising that Ahmadinejad would win the home cities of all of his opponents.
President Barack Obama said Ahmadinejad's rhetoric may be "odious," but, to his credit, he hasn't given up on opening a dialogue with Teheran, telling reporters he plans to pursue "tough hard headed diplomacy, diplomacy without illusions." Jewish groups are not objecting - at least publicly - to the president's efforts, but many would like to see him set deadlines for diplomacy to produce results and to be prepared to take tougher measures should talks fail.
Iranian demonstrators demanding "reform" and "freedom" not only took to the streets to protest what they feel was a rigged election but they were Twittering, text messaging, sending pictures by cellphone, blogging and using the Internet to press their message. The government has tried to shut them down, and it has been cracking down on some foreign reporters.
There has been some speculation, but no evidence, that the mullahs fixed the election because they feared Obama's Cairo speech may have unleashed the kind of revolutionary fervor that they rode to power 30 years ago and don't wish to see replicated for their demise.
The dilemma for the Obama administration will be to pursue its diplomacy while still encouraging the obvious widespread dissatisfaction with the regime.
Few expect a repeat of the 1979 uprising just yet, but many are hoping this will sow seeds for future opposition. Could these demonstrations and calls for reform and freedom be the opening shots of a revolution that could bring democracy to Iran?
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