Tehran’s astute observers of American presidential politics

A correspondent for Tehran Bureau reports: If there were global statistics regarding which nations have been paying the most attention to the U.S. presidential campaign, Iran would probably be at the top. The crushing sanctions imposed over the past year aimed at forcing Iran to curb or abandon its nuclear program have created more pain than ever for average Iranians. They see President Barack Obama as prepared to effectively destroy their country’s economy even as he has shown that he is not eager to launch a military strike on the Islamic Republic.

On the other hand, they consider former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as George W. Bush redux, and many believe that, if elected president, he will order a military attack on Iran.

“I believe it would be better if Romney was elected. We will suffer for a month, and then we will be all set,” says Ali Reza, 34, who peddles jeans around Rah Ahan Circle in south Tehran. What if armed conflict turns Iran into another Iraq? I ask. “That would be a catastrophe, by God!” he replies. “What can I say? They are both awful choices. Our luck here is that whichever way we turn, it’s a misfortune.”

Heading up to Vali Asr Square, I get into the front seat of a cab. The driver, Mahmoud, is playing a pop tune on his stereo. I ask him who he prefers, Obama or Romney. “This Islamic Republic that we see here needs a fist over its head. Obama has made a fool of himself for four years. Someone has to come and put these guys in their places.”

Across from the Tehran City Theater stand three young adults — two women and a man, students at the nearby Art College. I ask what they think of the American political system. Laleh, 21, says, “The two U.S. parties seem the same to me, except that the Democrats keep their cards over the table, while the Republicans keep them under the table. But the Democrats are quite slick.”

I ask for her election prediction. “If Romney wins, Obama’s long-term programs will be put aside. But it is clear that Obama will win.”

Houman, 24, says that he has enjoyed following the campaign. “It’s become complicated. It is very close.”

Who does he prefer? I ask.

“There’s no difference!”

“Not at all?”

“Their Iran policies match. Obama will have to get fervid too.”

I remind him that Romney has criticized Obama for interceding on behalf of the Green Movement after its rise in 2009. Houman says, “Ya, I was totally against interceding. It would have made things worse.”

I ask if he believes there would have been any difference if Romney had been in office? “Obama chose that position at the request of the Green Movement leaders and their own calculus. If Romney believes in the Green Movement, he should study some of Mir Hossein Mousvai’s communiqués.”

Mousavi, the former prime minister, issued a series of communiqués during and after his 2009 campaign as a reformist candidate for the Iranian presidency (the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was declared the winner of the June vote amid widespread accusations of electoral fraud). In his seventh of these statements, Mousavi said that the regime’s crushing of domestic media outlets was opening the door to foreign intervention.

In his ninth communiqué, issued in July 2009 after the postelection protests and their violent suppression by the authorities, he added, “No matter how bitter this situation, it’s a feud between kindred, and we will regret it if we act immaturely and involve outsiders.”

Houman glances at his watch and sees that he has time to continue with the conversation. “The Republicans who attack Obama about the Green Movement didn’t speak up back then.”

And Romney?

He replies, “He is better than other Republican candidates, more moderate and more realistic.” He adds, “He seems to be a more intelligent person compared to George Bush’s team.”

With no security agents visible in the immediate vicinity, Golnoosh, who appears to be Houman’s girlfriend, is clasping his arm. “The issue of Iran has no effect on the U.S. voters,” she says. “Look, [former Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger in his recent interview said the same things about Iran as [Ambassador to the United Nations] Susan Rice and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton have said. American foreign policy has never been so homogeneous over the last decade.”

How so?

“Because they have gone through major crises, like the Iraq war and Bin Laden, and nobody relishes making up new crises.”

Houman agrees. “Obama himself knows that this is not the time to attack Iran.” [Continue reading…]

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