Ahmadinejad owes a great debt to Bush

Published in Turkish Daily News, 3 October 2007

If you ever find yourself walking around in Tehran, you will recognize right away that the mood in the streets is melancholy, not a mad commitment to destroy Israel, if not the entire world. Romantic memories of the ‘free and prosperous' days of the Shah still linger in a country, which continues to mourn the loss of a ‘once great place' in the eyes of the world.

As the middle classes and the educated circles increasingly react against the flamboyant rhetoric of their President and want him to address the economic problems and closed doors that limit the development of Iran, the last thing on their minds is an apocalyptic struggle paving the way of the Mahdi.

Iran has gained significantly from U.S. policies:

In many ways, there is nothing new about Iran's ambitions on acquiring nuclear energy (well, let's be honest, nuclear weapons). It has long been in the cards since the days of Rafsanjani, with a slight detour under Khatami, the reformer.

Even though the popular reading of Iran and its state may present a rather unstable and irrational country, this is far from the truth. The Iranian state and people care about their international standing as much as any other country, and their foreign policy follows a rationale based on their regional interests and domestic tensions, just like any other country.

One may fail to recognize how much Iran has gained in the last two years.

Though the U.S. had certain desired outcomes in mind when invading Afghanistan and Iraq, the last thing the administration foresaw or wanted was to create a stronger Iran. In fact, the effect of the Afghan and Iraqi affairs resulted in Iran gaining a much stronger political and popular presence in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

However, it is not only Iran's diplomacy that gained new grounds through the unexpected opening. The increasing diplomatic tensions that brought the focus back on Iran have done wonders in refreshing the weakening hold of revolutionary attitudes and Ahmadinejad's appeal to Iranians.

“I hate Ahmadinejad, but I admire him!”:

A rather well-off shop owner in Tehran tells me his memories of the Shah and the freedom they enjoyed. A taxi driver keeps me hostage for 20 minutes after I arrive at my destination with his passionate confessions about his day-to-day life and its limitations.

A university student notes the displeasure among her peers about how Iran is perceived globally and how their President is no reflection of their country. A lay intellectual who claims to be a devoted Communist bashes his anger against the elitism of the ruling class and the serious problems in the country.

An internet café owner tells me his plans to flee to the U.S., just as many other young professionals of his generation, who are more busy trying to get a high score in English tests, than to plan a suicidal mission to Israel.

One thing unites these people. They have all stated in their own words the same generic message: “I hate Ahmadinejad, but I admire him!”

Ironically, they all see Israel and the U.S. seeking to destroy Iran in an ‘irrational and mad' way, just as we hear regularly that this is what Iran is trying to do. Though none of them want anything to do with nuclear weapons, they all support Iran's bid for nuclear energy and feel that their President is courageously defending their rights against a colonial West that seeks to hinder their development.

Though the President's domestic performance and populist rhetoric is speedily decreasing his appeal within Iran, his seemingly tough stand against the West is gaining him more brownie points.

In fact, this has been the ultimate lesson we have learned, although apparently not all of us, since the Islamic Revolution. Iranians are patriotic people who will unite strongly in the face of an outside enemy. One of the key factors of how Khomeini was able to appeal to a wide range of people from atheists, leftists to Islamic seminary students was the authenticity and commitment to Iran he represented in the presence of a Shah who seemed to be losing his Iranian-ness and ‘selling his nation' to outside powers.

So it seems that President Ahmadinejad owes at least a short ‘thank you' email sent to the gov.us domain. And President Bush may be moved to accept such courtesy and grant an equally genuine response. After all, President Bush himself owes a lot to Ahmadinejad's populism in his efforts to emerge as a strong and fearless defender of the ‘free world' after the not-so-desirable public relations outcome of the Iraq war.