Iran has chosen a new president, and many in the western media outlets are touting Hassan Rowhani as the “most moderate” choice that had been offered to the Iranian people in the election. They’re right about that, but it’s probably wrong to refer to him as a moderate. The primary problem is that Western journalists use this term because it is offered to them by Iranian sources. That’s not particularly meaningful in the context of international relations, though.
Rowhani exited the political sphere in Iran for the most part in 2005, primarily because of differences in philosophy with outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on diplomatic styles in dealing with the West over Iran’s nuclear program. What were those differences? Well, as far as the West is concerned, Rowhani isn’t big on saber rattling, like Ahmadinejad. While he was involved in talks with Britain on Iran’s nuclear program, he was far more diplomatic. Does that mean that he was in any way opposed to the Iranian nuclear weapons program? It’s impossible to know for sure, however it’s unlikely that he was opposed to the supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Rowhani passed the Iranian vetting procedure for presidential candidates, which essentially means that he was “acceptable” in the eyes of Khamenei. Talk of “reformists” in Iran is not exactly what Westerners consider reform. It may mean significant changes in the daily life of Iranians, but true reform in that nation, because of its power structure, would not come from an election. They would need to start another revolution, to put an end to the current Islamist regime.
So, what does this term “moderate” really mean? In the simplest terms, it means that whomever it is applied to in Iran, isn’t quite as radical as anyone else in the religious and political landscape in that country. Any differences that will be seen between the reign of Ahmadinejad and Rowhani will be on the ground in Iran. It’s true that Rowhani will be a friendlier leader to the West, but that will primarily be through diplomacy with Western nations to ease economic sanctions against Iran. It will not mean that there will be a sudden halt to the Iranian nuclear weapons program, and there is a distinct possibility that the West will be in worse circumstances on that issue alone. Rowhani already has practice at appeasing Western leaders, while blithely watching while the supreme leader continues pulling the strings that control the nuclear program there. That is something that Ahmadinejad lacked, and his hardline stance with the rest of the world is what got Iran in its current economic mess. In reality, it’s possible that Iran could have been farther along in their nuclear program now, if Rowhani hadn’t walked away, because he may have been able to smooth talk the West out of the sanctions that have slowed that program.
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