Joel Mowbray

  The Iranian mullahs pulled off an impressive marketing job by holding two consecutive elections in which a “reformer” won the Presidency and then allowing the “reformers” to win a majority of parliament in the 2000 election.  Beneath the surface, though, the story is much different.  The Council of Guardians, a panel of twelve mullahs that controls most of Iran, vetted all candidates for President and Parliament.  Even if the “reformers” who control the Parliament are actual reformers, they have little power to change anything.  The Council of Guardians can veto any bill it chooses to—and the Parliament can doing nothing more. 

  But the greatest—and most dangerous—myth that the mullahs have managed to perpetuate is that President Mohammad Khatami is a “reformer.”  What most don’t realize is that he spent a decade as Iran’s chief censor, from 1982 to 1992, where he censored over 600 publications.  He was one of 238 people who placed their hats in the ring—and 234 were declared ineligible by the Council of Guardians.  In other words, Khatami was only of four candidates deemed acceptable by the mullahs.

  Even though the elections were hardly more democratic than those found in the old Soviet Union, Iran’s attempts to dress them up as something more apparently worked.  Secretary of State Colin Powell earlier this month called President Khatami “freely elected.”  But the harm caused by Powell’s department runs much deeper than mere rhetoric.

  For several years now, State has been trying to “engage” the mullahs.  That approach has yielded little; the mullahs are still brutally repressing the Iranian people, and their efforts to develop nukes have not even slowed.  The alternative approach isn’t a military one, though.  State could truly support the protesters—as President Bush has repeatedly done—and it could refuse to legitimize a crumbling regime with more “talks.” 

  These steps wouldn’t be a panacea—but they would be a crucial place to start.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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