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November 28, 2005
Ahmadinejad Creating Rifts In Iranian Hard Line

The AP reports that the Guardian Council's fair-haired boy, newly-"elected" President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has created dissension among the ruling elite of Iran. His purges and radical foreign policy has disturbed even the conservatives of the Iranian parliament, who have now denied him his choices for the important position of oil minister three times as a signal to stop operating as a loose cannon. It does not appear that Ahmadinejad will get the message:

Iranian moderates say the president has harmed his country by isolating it internationally, and now Ahmadinejad's friends are lining up against him. He suffered a humiliating defeat last week when his choice for oil minister was rejected for a third time, an unprecedented failure for an Iranian president.

While parliament is dominated by Ahmadinejad's conservative allies, the president's isolationist stance and his failure to consult on Cabinet appointments have annoyed lawmakers. They warn they will not approve any future nominee unless Ahmadinejad first consults parliament.

Pragmatists within the ruling establishment worry that Ahmadinejad's radical agenda has sidelined a cadre of experienced men at home and isolated the country abroad.

Earlier this month, the government announced that 40 ambassadors and senior diplomats, including supporters of better ties with the West, would be fired. Also let go were pragmatists who handled Iran's nuclear negotiations with Europe under Ahmadinejad's reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami....

In the works, but still not made public, is a deeper shake-up of the establishment in which Ahmadinejad is replacing hundreds of governors and senior officials at various ministries with young, inexperienced Islamic hard-liners who oppose good relations with the West. The changes include putting fundamentalists in key posts at security agencies.

The trend towards fundamentalism will prove worrisome to outside observers, but what should worry Iranian fundamentalists is a trend towards incompetence that Ahmadinejad appears to be establishing. In a country with as much unrest as Iran already has, replacing people who have basic competence in their positions with political hacks mouthing the correct slogans back to Ahmadinejad will only stoke impatience with the current political scheme. Moderates who once believed in an Islamic republic will shortly fall away from even tepid support of the Iranian regime. In response, the security apparatus, under the control of inexperienced hardliners, will overreact and start indiscriminate retaliations for all sorts of real and imagined slights, making the problem of alienation exponentially worse.

Ahmadinejad may prove to provide little more than a recipe for a civil war, or perhaps a lower-intensity civil meltdown. His selection by the Guardian Council may well be their greatest mistake, but it's one that they have thus far refused to recognize. Ruling cleric Ayatollah Ali Khameini continues to back him, and his senior advisors refuse to acknowledge that Ahmadinejad needs to change his style. Advisor Madhi Kalhor urged Iranians and the international community to accept Ahmadinejad's "revolutionary management style" that produces policy changes in 24 hours instead of the years of diplomatic and political work other governments put into policymaking.

Now that should make everyone feel better ...

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 28, 2005 6:00 AM

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