July 12, 2007

The Laughingstock Of Teheran

Have you heard the joke about the president of Iran -- or more accurately, the joke that is the president of Iran? Monica Maggioni at Foreign Policy reports that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become a laughingstock in Iran, and not just among the hoi polloi waiting in hours-long gas lines. Even the ruling elite have started snickering up their sleeves, but the punch line may not be humorous at all:

Since his election in June 2005, Iranians have had conflicted feelings about their president. At first, he evoked interest and curiosity. And there were great expectations from this humble man who was promising economic reform, an anticorruption campaign, and a rigid moral scheme for daily life. Then came fear—when Ahmadinejad began to destroy any chance of good relations with the outside world.

But today in Iran, laughter is supplanting fear. Mocking the president has become a pastime not only for rebellious university students, but also members of the establishment and the government itself.

Behind the high walls of Iranian palaces or in the quiet of Tehran’s parks, Iranian elites will indulge in a quick laugh about the president’s intelligence or his populist bombast. Jokes about his résumé are especially popular. Many refer to his “Ph.D. in traffic” or his letter last May to U.S. President George W. Bush, in which he proclaimed, “I am a teacher.”

The jokes—and who is delivering them—tell the story of a man whose power is on the decline as Iran’s economy collapses around him. Prices for basic goods are skyrocketing, and the government is unable to cope with increasing poverty. Just last month, over 50 Iranian economists sent an open letter excoriating the president’s mismanagement of the economy.

For each public gathering, his loyalists must now arrange hundreds of buses from the remotest and poorest regions of the country. The president’s rented crowds shuffle off the buses for an hour or two and then enjoy Tehran sightseeing, lunch, and dinner paid for by Ahmadinejad’s inner circle in the administration.

The rapid disillusionment with Ahmadinejad comes as no surprise to anyone paying attention to Iran. Their economy has skidded from stagnation to catastrophic. Under the direction of the mullahcracy, Ahmadinejad's pursuit of nuclear weapons has allowed the US to isolate Iran diplomatically and economically as the entire world worries about having the finger on the button belong to a man who holds conferences on wiping out Israel. That has created an enormous burden on an economy that had its share of problems without it -- and now a country that relies on oil exports can't even put gas in their own tanks.

It's easy to lay all of this onto Ahmadinejad. That's why fools can be so very handy for those who actually wield power. Maggioni reports that those who seek to supplant Ahmadinejad have no plans for re-engagement with the West by offering better terms, but instead may be even more hardline than Ahmadinejad. Ari Larijani, for instance, has fronted the nuclear weapons program for years and has built his own constituency with the ruling elite He's the most likely candidate to replace Ahmadinejad in 2009, when the mullahs will stage the next election.

The replacement of Ahmadinejad with a competent administrator may set back the cause of Iranian freedom for years. The damage Ahmadinejad does to the mullahcracy that endorsed him will dissipate with a more competent leader, if Larijani proves to be that. Ahmadinejad creates hostility among the Iranian populace, where Larijani almost certainly would handle himself with more aplomb than the former mayor of Teheran.

That has implications in foreign policy as well. Will the nations of the West remain united against Iran when the leadership stops fantasizing aloud about a world without Israel and conducting Holocaust-denial conferences? From what we have already seen of Western tenacity in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and the like, we may not like the answer we get.

That's why the Laughingstock of Teheran may be the best option, at least until Iran gets nuclear weapons. Winston Churchill once remarked that the worst kings produced the biggest strides for liberty while analyzing the circumstances surrounding the Magna Carta. An incompetent in Teheran keeps the pressure on the mullahcracy in all the right ways.


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Comments (6)

Posted by TomB | July 12, 2007 11:23 AM

Quite e few of the infrastructure megaprojects in Soviet Union were build by excessive jokers, the same may happen in Iran, shutting down even this meager demonstration of freedom of thought.
But if Ahmadinejad is the soft one, we are in for some interesting times...

Posted by AmendmentX | July 12, 2007 12:19 PM

This column states the exact reason the US should NOT invade Iran. Spec Ops certainly. Absolutely. But no large scale invasion or air strikes. The Iranian economy is collapsing. Iran imports gasoline (as does America) The mullahocracy along with their hand picked president are reviled by the citizens of Iran. Any military incursion will galvanize and cement support for the beleaguered leadership.
Let the leadership rot on their own accord.

Posted by Hope Muntz | July 12, 2007 12:31 PM

It's important to keep articles like Maggioni's in the proper perspective. RAI is not in the business of putting the needle into mideast dictatorships any more than the BBC is--you notice that the 'jokes' quoted about Ahmadinejad were denatured to the point of near-affection. There is a reason for this--and the reason is stated in the article's last paragraph, where like every single leftist EuroJourno in the world, she admonishes the US not to take any military action against Iran before 2009. If Iran's Revolutionary Guards (whom she cozily refers to in Farsi slang) were writing their own faux press releases buying time for their nuclear program, they would read pretty much like this. Adolf Hitler was equally 'unpopular' in Germany in the mid-30s, according to polls (Churchill's poll ratings among Britons were even lower than Bush's in late 1941)--for very similar economic and social reasons-- and local jokes about him were often cited by the New York Times as evidence of his imminent fall. But as we saw with Saddam, dictators don't go gently into that good night.

Posted by exDemo | July 12, 2007 3:32 PM

Iran is enormously overextended.


They must pay for the Hamas idiots who have manged to dry up outside foreign aid and are coming hat in hand for MORE from Persia,

The Hezb'Allah in Lebanon managed to get into a war with Israel and burned up lots of previous Iranian aid, and want more to rebuild. Syria is a joke economy . It remains afloat only because Persia pays.

The Taliban are demanding aid and getting it. The Sadr Mahdi Army in Iraq is demanding aid ands more aid demands.

They are doing a domestic Manhattan Project that cost a the USA a tremendous amount and strained even the USA. They are doing this on a underdeveloped country's economy.

Exporting dwindling amounts of crude oil, importing refined oil, and selling carpets an pistachios is hardly paying for all this foreign adventurism and expenditure.

The UN has imposed sickly, porous sanctions . But Sanctions do not help. either. Inflation is running rampant. Are you really surprised? I'll even take a wager on which government falls first , The Iraqi or Iranians one, which falls first?.

Posted by howard lohmuller | July 13, 2007 7:48 AM

Unfortunately, Westerners don't appreciate the story that can and is being told to supporters of the Iranian President.. Just as Hitler promised the German people a renewed and vigorous leadership in Europe and the rest of the world, so Iranians are being told that they will be the dominant force in the Middleeast. Many secular and moderate muslims look the other way at religious fanaticism because they think it possible Iran can be a world power, Shia will triumph over Sunni, and military prowess will build the country's economy. This historically effective siren song has worked repeatedly through the ages. So don't count on Iranians to overthrow their President. because the young can't get the CD's they want.

Posted by chris | July 13, 2007 12:43 PM

This can't be right, Dan Rather thought that Ahmadinejad was a genius.