(FinalCall.com) – The lead up to the Iranian elections were filled with projections of a victory for Mir Mousavi as a candidate of change and moderation swept into office by a combination of young and educated voters fed up with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The result was the opposite, with Mr. Ahmadinejad declared the winner, and street demonstrations and charges of voter fraud by Mr. Mousavi.
The American media quickly picked up the allegations of fraud while experts and pundits questioned how great a backlash could be expected in Iran. Street protests erupted and there was a response by security officials to the unauthorized demonstrations.
But while the western media largely stuck with the story line of improbable election results and focused on charges of fraud, there was another side to the story. This side of the story was not a straightforward repudiation of Mr. Ahmadinejad but a story of widespread support for him alongside a desire for more reforms of the Iranian political system.
The claims of fraud by Mr. Mousavi were quickly picked up by the American media and the western world. But the disputed results may not have been as clear cut as the media seemed to believe.
While the American media had largely forecast a victory for an Iranian “reformer,” a poll by U.S. researchers found Mr. Ahmadinejad leading Mr. Mousavi by a 2-1 margin and found little evidence of a supposed voter revolt spurred by young people and the internet.
The poll by Terror Free Tomorrow and the New America Foundation found sizable numbers of youth supporting the Iranian incumbent and only 1 in 3 Iranians had access to the internet–so much for the new Iranian political revolution.
“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,” wrote Ken Ballen, of Terror Free Tomorrow: The Center for Public Opinion, and Patrick Doherty, of the New America Foundation, in a piece published June 15 in the Washington Post.
“Iranians view their support for a more democratic system, with normal relations with the United States, as consonant with their support for Ahmadinejad. They do not want him to continue his hard-line policies. Rather, Iranians apparently see Ahmadinejad as their toughest negotiator, the person best positioned to bring home a favorable deal–rather like a Persian Nixon going to China. “Allegations of fraud and electoral manipulation will serve to further isolate Iran and are likely to increase its belligerence and intransigence against the outside world.
Before other countries, including the United States, jump to the conclusion that the Iranian presidential elections were fraudulent, with the grave consequences such charges could bring, they should consider all independent information. The fact may simply be that the reelection of President Ahmadinejad is what the Iranian people wanted,” wrote Mr. Ballen and Mr. Doherty.
Iranian officials will now evaluate the election for fraud as the U.S. and other western governments scrutinize the results. But what if the will of Iranian voters doesn’t match up with American and Western expectations? The Obama administration has taken the proper tone by saying that more needs to be done find the truth of the election results and that outreach to Iran will continue.
The United States has continually called for expansion of democracy, but it often appears as though “democracy” is only good when the results fit with U.S. policy objectives.
Whether it is the election of President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia or Hamas political success in the Israeli-dominated Gaza Strip, democracy seems to be fine so long as the outcome is what the U.S. wants.
The Obama administration–with the popularity of the new president, the hope that surrounds his administration and the bad memories of George W. Bush–has the opportunity to make a fresh start.
The fresh start, however, must be based on respect for the choices made by the people of the world to choose their own governments. If America believes in democracy, she cannot choose leaders for the people of the world or determine the national interests of other countries.
The White House should seek a moderate course with Iran, and avoid using language that demonizes a nation that is of extreme importance to the Middle East. Perhaps improved relations with Iran can offer lessons that can be applied elsewhere in the world.
An enlightened U.S. foreign policy that respects the international community is the best way influence the nations of the earth. President Obama’s recent speech to the Muslim world from Egypt and his other remarks in Turkey, Germany and France have won praise for their tone and their content.
Mr. Obama has consistently made the argument that the U.S. will pursue its interests with a respect for international law and seek to partner with instead of police the world.
Iran and its people must be allowed to sort out the presidential elections without interference from the United States. The country is in the throes of a serious political conflict and the Iranian people must be allowed to handle their own affairs. In 1953, the U.S. was part of a plot that overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, ushering in Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, whose brutal reign and abuses while a U.S. front man, helped give rise to the Islamic revolution in 1979. America must not repeat that sordid history by interfering in Iran–it is time to leave old covert policies behind.