June 14, 2009 “Pierre’s Middle East Issues Blog” — It’s been a little weird, if not embarrassing, to witness the reactions of the American press to the Iranian election in the last 24 hours.
There was the initial rush of expectation–that “change” was as much in the Iranian air as it had been in the American last fall, an equivalence so wrong on so many fronts that it managed to obscure the essential truth of the Iranian election: there never was a significant ideological difference between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir Hossein Mousavi. Only a tonal one. But the Los Angeles Times was content to blare this headline: “Iranians ready to decide presidency — and maybe much more.”
There was the added irony of the LATimes’ sub-headline: “The winner will play a key role in possible talks over Iran’s nuclear program and support for militant groups,” the implication being that if Mousavi were the winner, maybe he’d rein back the militants. But it was Mousavi who, as Iran’s prime minister in the 1980s, helped build those militant groups into international terrorist forces, sending money, weapons and manpower to Lebanon to beef up Hezbollah and telegraphing their targets, including that string of American and European hostages Hezbollah held for most of the decade—and Mousavi traded for, haggling over anti-tank missiles and money with Oliver North and Bud McFarlane, in the infamous Iran-contra affairs.
Still, the paper in Los Angeles, not to mention the New York Times and the Washington Post, have blithely referred to Mousavi as a “moderate” throughout the election campaign, accepting at face value his apparent conversion, if only because he kept his antipathy for the United States relatively silent.
But Slate’s Samuel Rosner was closer to reality: The Iranian president isn’t the one who decides Iran’s fate, or foreign policy, or domestic policy, for that matter. It’s Ali Khamenei, the “supreme leader,” who does. But the big papers kept up the charade (“As Iran Votes, Talk of a Sea Change,” went The New York Times), as if willing the fantasy.