Outside View: Rouhani's election

By JAMES ZUMWALT, UPI Outside View Commentator
In this official handout image, Iran's outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meets newly-elected president Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, Iran on June 18, 2013. UPI
In this official handout image, Iran's outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meets newly-elected president Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, Iran on June 18, 2013. UPI

HERNDON, Va., July 2 (UPI) -- Early in his first term, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confidently predicted to other leaders of the Muslim world a major religious event would take place during his time in office.

With his second term ending Aug. 3, his prediction won't happen but Ahmadinejad -- a non-cleric -- truly believed he was to be a catalyst in triggering the event's occurrence.


This leaves us with: 1) an unknown unknown -- i.e., whether Iran's president-elect -- Hassan Rouhani -- will go "back to the future," claiming the prediction will occur on his watch; and 2) a known known -- i.e., whether Rouhani's presidency means it is "back to the past" on nuclear arms negotiations.


Ahmadinejad predicted the return of Islam's 12th Imam or "Mahdi" -- a 5-year-old religious leader who disappeared more than a millennium ago, ascending into a state of occultation and only descending back to Earth at a time of world chaos to establish a global caliphate to which all other religions will be subservient.


Ahmadinejad publicly reported during his second term he was visited by the Mahdi, who allegedly said the event was imminent.

One reason Ahmadinejad fell into disfavor with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was this representation. It threatened the clerics' power, suggesting a non-cleric had better other-worldly connections than did the country's senior religious leader.

Unsurprisingly, Khamenei then announced he too was visited by the Mahdi. But when Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and recently rejected-presidential-candidate, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, reported a visit by the Mahdi as well, it was too much for the clerics. They immediately accused Mashaei and Ahmadinejad of witchcraft and summoning genies and another Ahmadinejad staff member of being "a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with unknown worlds."

Apparently, in a theocracy, only clerics can have such powers!

Had Iran's nuclear program gone according to plan, Ahmadinejad believed he would possess the key for triggering the Mahdi's return. Most Muslims believe in the 12th Imam's eventual return -- to be triggered by world chaos. But while the majority believes it need evolve naturally, Ahmadinejad is part of a small cult believing man can be the catalyst in triggering it -- even having a documentary film produced explaining his role in the Mahdi's return.


This explains Ahmadinejad's relentless quest for a nuclear weapon -- for he intends to use it. While confident its development would occur on his watch, Ahmadinejad apparently wasn't warned by the Mahdi about U.S.-developed malware infecting Iranian computers and causing program setbacks. Completion now awaits Rouhani's presidency. A recent International Atomic Energy Agency report suggests Iran is already accelerating it nuclear activities.

It is known Khamenei makes the calls on Iran's nuclear arms program. He is determined to see it through to completion. Khamenei's only problem with Ahmadinejad was the latter's effort to upstage the clerics.

With the recent Iranian presidential election over, hindsight allows us to understand Khamenei's motivation for having manipulated Rouhani into office as president.

1. A herd of almost 700 presidential candidates, through Khamenei's influence over the Guardian Council, which determined who ran for office, was culled to eight, two later dropping out. All six were Khamenei loyalists.

2. Khamenei's main concern to prevent repetition of the 2009 post-election riots led to tight security. Failure of a candidate to win at least 50 percent of the vote required a runoff -- providing yet another opportunity for rioting. He therefore needed the winning candidate to win by more than 50 percent in the first round. Unsurprisingly, Rouhani inched by with 50.7 percent of the vote.


3. The winner had to be someone who wouldn't challenge clerical authority -- unlike Ahmadinejad. Who better understood this than the only cleric among the six contenders?

4. Because Rouhani served as vice president under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, Khamenei knew the West perceived Rouhani as the only "moderate" candidate. A Rouhani win would generate favorable Western reviews and generate hope of a diplomatic nuclear resolution.

5. Rouhani is no moderate. He was part of a special operations committee, headed by Khamenei and then President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, voting to bomb a Jewish cultural center in Argentina in 1994, killing 85 people and injuring 300.

6. From 2003-05, Rouhani headed negotiations with Western powers after Iran's nuclear program was discovered, boasting later how he duped them. He mocked how European countries foolishly trusted Tehran as America cautioned them otherwise. Such trust enabled Tehran to make great progress at its Isfahan nuclear plant. Rouhani, seeking to advance Khamenei's agenda, is committed to more of the same as Iran's new president.

7. Not wanting Rouhani to start his term on the wrong foot, Khamenei announced before the election Tehran would send 4,000 Revolutionary Guard troops to Syria to help Assad and his plans to open up a second front in the Golan Heights.


Khamenei wants Rouhani to buy more time to complete Iran's nuclear arms program. Rouhani will adopt a policy of diplomatic duplicity, appearing less confrontational than Ahmadinejad but continuing along the same path.

Already setting the pace for this, Rouhani promises a "path of moderation," assuring greater openness on Tehran's nuclear program. Sadly, U.S. President Barack Obama seems to be taking the bait.

In 1992, Rouhani's eldest son committed suicide. The note he left stated: "I hate your government, your lies, your corruption, your religion, your double standard and your hypocrisy ... I was forced to lie to my friends each day, telling them that my father isn't part of all of this ... (that) my father loves this nation, whereas I believe this to be untrue. It makes me sick seeing you, my father, kiss the hand of Khamenei."

Roihani's son knew him best. We should heed his warning as Rouhani takes nuclear discussions "back to the past."


(A retired Marine, Lt. Col. James Zumwalt served in the Vietnam War, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War. He has written "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran -- The Clock is Ticking.")



(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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