Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Iran, Media — Rick Moran @ 4:19 am

I’ve written a couple of posts about the Iranian election, taking up the same meme being advanced everywhere else, that the contest was stolen in a clumsy and obvious fashion. Not once did I stop and think how that meme got started and who was pushing it. Nor did I think very hard about the analysts and experts who were advancing their own views on why the election was rigged. Who are they? What do they really know?

The fact that almost everyone seemed to have come to the same conclusion - Middle East experts, ex-Iran hands from State, journalists who have lived and worked in Iran, and especially ordinary Iranians whose emotional reaction to the loss of the “reform” candidate Mousavi tugged at our sympathy - was a powerful motivation to hop on board the rigged election bandwagon and fire away at the regime, at the Revolutionary Guards, and especially at Supreme Leader Khamenei for denying the Iranian people their triumph.

But, is there a possibility that we’re all wrong, that Ahmadinejad really won the election going away?

As I said in this post on Saturday, I am not an expert on Iran, Iranian politics, or the political culture there. All of us in the blogosphere, and the overwhelming majority of national analysts and pundits who are advancing the stolen election meme, depend on the handful of people who we have designated either through their demonstrated expertise or a perceived wisdom that may be useful or not, for our “analysis.” There can’t be more than a couple of dozen of us who are writing about this who know what we’re talking about and have independent sources of information that would justify the kind of faith we have all invested in this story. The rest of us are mostly just parroting the analysis of others while sometimes presciently, sometimes ignorantly, throwing our two cents of speculation in for good measure.

Iran is an enormously complex country, whose people are about as familiar to us as someone who would alight from Alpha Centari. So too, their politics, their government, and the workings of their political system. Cook County, Iran is not. This is a political culture as foreign to us any on earth what with the volatile mix of religion, politics, mysticism, and fear. So looking at the thousands of blog posts, articles, and the hours of TV speculation on the election in a rational manner leads to the inescapable conclusion that, while it is a good bet that the election was indeed rigged, the possibility that President Ahmadinejad actually won the election cannot be entirely dismissed.

Is it possible that all the “experts” we are quoting and listening to have gotten it wrong? Is it possible that some of these same experts are pushing the idea of a stolen election as part of their own agenda? Is it possible that the opposition in Iran is doing the same?

Is it possible?

Sure it is. But you’d never know it if you read the blogs, the MSM, or listen to the discussion on the TV news nets.

Perhaps it’s my contrarian nature that has been energized by reading a few articles that have advanced the idea that Ahmadinejad won and that, as Abbas Barzegar, a PhD candidate in religious studies at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia wrote in the Guardian on Saturday, we westerners are engaging in some wishful thinking about Iran that just isn’t true:

On Monday night at least 100,000 of the former prime minister’s supporters set up a human chain across Tehran. But, hours before I had attended a mass rally for the incumbent president that got little to no coverage in the western press because, on account of the crowds, he never made it inside the hall to give his speech. Minimal estimates from that gathering have been placed at 600,000 (enthusiasts say a million). From the roof I watched as the veiled women and bearded men of all ages poured like lava.

But the failure to properly gauge Iran’s affairs is hardly a new phenomenon. When the 1979 revolution shattered the military dictatorship of America’s strongest ally in the region few experts outside of the country suspected that the Islamic current would emerge as the leading party.


For over a week the same social impulses of anti-corruption, populism, and religious piety that led to the revolution have been on the streets available to anyone who wanted to report on them. Ahmedinejad, for most in the country, embodies those ideals. Since he came into office he has refused to wear a suit, refused to move out of the home he inherited from his father, and has refused to tone down the rhetoric he uses against those he accuses of betraying the nation. When he openly accused his towering rival, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanji, a lion of the revolution himself, of parasitical corruption and compared his betrayal to the alleged deception against the Prophet Muhammad that led to the Sunni-Shia split 1,400 years ago, he unleashed a popular impulse that has held the imagination of the masses here for generations. That Rafsanji defended himself through Mousavi’s newspaper meant the end for the reformists.

In the last week Ahmedinejad turned the election into a referendum on the very project of Iran’s Islamic revolution. Their street chants yelled “Death to all those against the Supreme Leader” followed by traditional Shia rituals and elegies. It was no match for the high-spirited fun-loving youth of northern Tehran who sang “Ahmedi-bye-bye, Ahmedi-bye-bye” or “ye hafte-do hafte, Mahmud hamum na-rafte” (One week, two weeks, Mahmoud hasn’t taken a shower).

These are not the wild words of a religious fanatic endorsing Ahmadinejad but the measured tones of someone applying knowledge of his home country to a political event. He would never get a gig on CNN but does that fact delegitimze his argument? Barzegar acknowledges the possibility of fraud but believes the election outcome as announced is a more likely scenario.

Just because he is a voice in the wilderness, does that make his analysis any less viable than those advancing the stolen election theme? Measuring the relative merits of someone’s opinion when trying to decide who to believe should take into account many factors, not the least should be an intimate familiarity with the subject at hand. Barzegar would seem to pass that test with flying colors.

Then there is the poll out today by The New America Foundation and the Roper The Center for Public Opinion, taken between May11-19 in Iran, that reveals a huge wellspring of support for Ahmadinejad - on the order of 2-1:

The breadth of Ahmadinejad’s support was apparent in our preelection survey. During the campaign, for instance, Mousavi emphasized his identity as an Azeri, the second-largest ethnic group in Iran after Persians, to woo Azeri voters. Our survey indicated, though, that Azeris favored Ahmadinejad by 2 to 1 over Mousavi.

Much commentary has portrayed Iranian youth and the Internet as harbingers of change in this election. But our poll found that only a third of Iranians even have access to the Internet, while 18-to-24-year-olds comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all age groups.

The only demographic groups in which our survey found Mousavi leading or competitive with Ahmadinejad were university students and graduates, and the highest-income Iranians. When our poll was taken, almost a third of Iranians were also still undecided. Yet the baseline distributions we found then mirror the results reported by the Iranian authorities, indicating the possibility that the vote is not the product of widespread fraud.

I, too, look upon polls taken in a state as oppressive as Iran with a jaundiced eye. But pollsters can be tricky. They are very good at determining a respondent’s true feelings:

Some might argue that the professed support for Ahmadinejad we found simply reflected fearful respondents’ reluctance to provide honest answers to pollsters. Yet the integrity of our results is confirmed by the politically risky responses Iranians were willing to give to a host of questions. For instance, nearly four in five Iranians — including most Ahmadinejad supporters — said they wanted to change the political system to give them the right to elect Iran’s supreme leader, who is not currently subject to popular vote. Similarly, Iranians chose free elections and a free press as their most important priorities for their government, virtually tied with improving the national economy. These were hardly “politically correct” responses to voice publicly in a largely authoritarian society.

The information is compelling. But then, the poll was taken three weeks before the election and while Mousavi would have a lot of ground to make up, such swings are possible - especially since we witnessed the surge for Mousavi beginning at just about that time.

Then there’s Flynt Leverett, senior fellow at The New America Foundation quoted on Spiegel Online:

Leverett: I would have been surprised if he had lost. The Western media overstated the surge of his main opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi over the last couple of weeks. They missed almost entirely how Ahmadinejad was perceived to have won the TV debate, for instance. There was an extraordinary amount of wishful thinking of American and Western policymakers - unfortunately, that had a strong impact on the media coverage over the past few weeks.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Some people in Washington already express scepticism with the results, though.

Leverett: I am a little surprised by the margin, too. But that makes me more comfortable about the overall validity of the election. Look at the irregularities Mousavi is citing now: that they ran out of ballot paper in some polling precincts, that they did not keep some polls open long enough. There is no way such things could change the overall outcome which is clearly in favor of Ahmadinejad.

Defending one’s organization’s work is not unheard of in the think tank world. But he makes a couple of interesting points about Mousavi’s complaints that I hadn’t considered.

One poll and a couple of pieces of analysis claiming that Ahmadinejad won against the torrent of information, speculation, and analysis that says a fraud was perpetrated: Is it enough to sway your thinking?

It should be enough to make you question everything you read from here on out with at least the same healthy skepticism we should always use when examining anything we read or hear about a subject with which almost all of us have little or no direct knowledge.


Juan Cole takes a closer look at the poll I mentioned above and finds it wanting. He points out that Ahmadinejad’s 2-1 advantage is actually much less than it would appear. The incumbent was favored by only 34% of Iranians while Mousavi got 14% of the vote. Undecideds and “none of the aboves” appeared to get the rest.

In essence, the poll is a lot less compelling than I thought but still an interesting piece of evidence that support for Ahmadinejad is not a mirage.


  1. It doesn’t matter — Iran doesn’t need a change of puppets — it needs revolution. I’m one who doesn’t believe there is some mystical affinity with tyranny that we don’t understand (not saying you proposed this, but some have implied as much). I’ve talked with Iranians who have lived here for awhile — they are humans just like we used to be (: who love freedom. The present puppet has support because he has great power under the Supreme God-Like Person — if they had a free country and a vibrant, diverse economy, and better music, the present puppet couldn’t be elected to dog-catcher — he’s a not-so-bright maniac.

    Comment by mike farmer — 6/15/2009 @ 5:49 am

  2. Rick:

    You’re right about projecting hopes. A lot of people (myself included) see Iran’s potential to be a powerful, effect, positive force in the Middle East.* The nation has one of the most educated populations in the region and despite its status as a brutal theocratic regime, Iran features at least some of the trappings of democracy. Unlike some US allies in the Middle East I could name (*cough* Saudi Arabia *cough*) A lot of us in the Western world truly want Iran to meet the potential we see, and it’s heartbreaking when Iran and its people don’t meet that potential.

    As you say above, it is entirely possible the people of Iran legitimately chose Ahamadinejad. And that’s a real pity.

    * Keep in mind I don’t say Iran is a shiny happy positive force, just that it has the potential to be.

    Comment by James H — 6/15/2009 @ 7:11 am

  3. I would never venture to say how legitimate the vote counts were, but Rick alludes to an interesting point: given the way that western media, political analysts, diplomatic staff interact these days - internet, cell phones, etc. - perhapr the pro-Mousavi voters seemed to them to be more numerous than they were because these types of voters (typically urban elites) tended to be more visible to them. The vote spread does look suspicious, though. Perhaps the Mullahs and/or Ahmadinejad panicked when they did not have to - maybe Ahmadinejad would have won with 58% of the vote without fraud.

    It does seem like American (or Western) neocons, Juan Cole types, and “centrist” progressives all have a stake in the elections having been fraudulent. I know, strange bedfellows.

    Comment by Buckeye — 6/15/2009 @ 7:54 am

  4. In essence, the poll is a lot less compelling than I thought but still an interesting piece of evidence that support for Ahmadinejad is not a mirage.

    It’s “interesting piece of evidence”, of course, but isn’t it quite irresponsible of Washington Post to publish those not well thought-out opinions at this critical moment of history? Besides, the timing says that the regime didn’t bother to count the votes anyway.

    Comment by Nikolay — 6/15/2009 @ 7:58 am

  5. I think someone is trying to steal the election. Either it’s Ahmadinejad or it’s Moussavi.

    I think both men know the real numbers, whatever they may be. Moussavi is too plugged-in not to have a pretty good idea of whether he won. So if he continues disputing it’s because he’s consciously trying to steal the election.

    But my money would be on Ahmadinejad as the more likely fraud.

    Comment by michael reynolds — 6/15/2009 @ 8:59 am

  6. I wonder … if there were shenanigans, did those shenanigans give Amadinejad the win, or did they merely inflate that win?

    Comment by James H — 6/15/2009 @ 9:02 am

  7. More skepticism of the “Ahmadinejad win”:


    The totals just do not add up to historical patterns or even turnout histories from recent elections. If turnout had been 40-50% and he won, I could almost believe that this “Fraud” call was a fraud itself. Instead, turnout was massive (80-85% by most estimates) in a country of youthful people (70% under 30 right?) who have always voted in the past 10-15 years overwhelmingly for reformers and reform elements within the Clerical centers of power.

    Another interesting wrinkle is how quick this was compiled in a country where legally there is a 3 day wait on certification of results and whose voting mechanisms are not nearly as developed as our own, let alone a more advanced (in a voting technology and process sense) Western country. That itself screams “fishy”.

    Comment by Eddie — 6/15/2009 @ 10:23 am

  8. I wrote about this last week. The Supreme Leader of Iran is the one who makes all the rules in Iran. He makes all the decisions in the country or controls all the decisions.
    In order to even be on the ballot you must be approved by a 12 person panel. 6 of that panel are appointed by the Supreme Leader and the other 6 are appointed by a group that is hand picked by the Supreme Leader.
    Read more about it here and stick around for more good stuff-

    Comment by BigEdsBlog — 6/15/2009 @ 10:41 am

  9. Hi Rick

    Americans desperately WANT ro believe the “reform” candidate lost the election by theft. And how much real reform are you going to get out of a hand-picked candidate vetted by the theocracy before he runs? Our wishful thinking holds that Iran is a ntaion of people just like us who really want democracy, don’t accept terrorism, don’t want the Bomb, hate the current regime and can live side by side with Jews. The thought of tens of millions of Muslim zealots who have hated the US and all it stands for since 1979 is too ugly to think about so we rationalize. I don’t think there is much nuance to “Death to the Great Satan.”

    Comment by Jim — 6/15/2009 @ 12:02 pm

  10. It is true that Ahmadinejad has strong support among certain segment of the population. A lot of the hard core Islamists such as in the Revolutionary Guards is not ready to give up anything. However, I would not underestimate the opposition to the regime. Just today they turned up in huge numbers again despite a government ban. I’m a bit disappointed at a lot what I read in the blogosphere, such a level of cynicism is a bit disheartening. I mean these are the people that are so fed up with this repressive Islamist regime and we should at least give them our moral support. Loved the clip of the young woman kicking the riot police officer.

    Comment by funny man — 6/15/2009 @ 12:50 pm

  11. This is a great way to entertain us, the Muslim-haters. We like to view Islam as a repressive regime, when in fact, WE are the ones in America who are repressed by the media. The Islamic nation simply doesn’t want to FOLLOW American-zionist-cooperate COMMANDS, so we label them “terrorists”??? Why can’t we just leave them alone, and worry about our own domestic affairs. We like to pretend that we are the PERFECT NATION….BUT LOOK AT US! unemployment is high, violence is high, divorce rate is high, and morality is low. yet we still believe that we are the perfect society. and that the world should listen to us. DId any of you ever sat down and pondered “hmmm why is Israel our friend? Israel killed many children….” or “how is Iran really a threat to us living here in USA?”

    You have a very large, disorderly mouth. Name one person in American history who has ever said we have a “perfect” society. Just one? Can’t. Your ignorance about America, about the world, about everything is appalling.

    Please don’t comment here anymore. You’re racism and bigotry makes people want to throw up.


    Comment by Non-American View — 6/15/2009 @ 1:26 pm

  12. Who cares? Iran is a theocracy and it’s run by the Council of Mullahs and Khameini. Ahmadinejad is just a figurehead and a certifiably loony one at that!

    Comment by Gayle Miller — 6/16/2009 @ 8:58 am

  13. Who Really Won Iran Election Irrelevant…

    It amazes me how much attention has been given to whether the Iran vote count was legitimate or whether Ahmedinejad would have won a fair vote. The real story here is government’s cooption of the process that it carefully controlled from the ver…

    Trackback by ePolitical.org — 6/16/2009 @ 8:04 pm

  14. Check out stratfor’s analysis.


    very comprehensive. though now the story less about the actual election and now about the uprising.

    from their about us page:
    STRATFOR is the world leader in global intelligence.

    Our team of experts collects and analyzes intelligence from every part of the world — offering unparalleled insights through our exclusively published analyses and forecasts. Whether it be on political, economic or military developments, STRATFOR not only provides its members with a better understanding of current issues and events, but invaluable assessments of what lies ahead.

    Comment by dieselm — 6/17/2009 @ 1:13 am

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