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Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ Claudia Rosett on the Iranian electoral crisis, and what the U.S. should say about it

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
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HH: Joined now by Claudia Rosett. I’m bringing all the big guns in on a day when democracy’s making a game out of it in Iran and getting slaughtered for their effort. Claudia, what’s your reaction watching the Basij butcher people in Iran?

CR: It’s that the American president ought to step up to the microphone and stop sitting around assessing things, and say very, very clearly that we support the democratic protestors in the streets of Iran, and we connect this whole scene and the problems of the horribly repressive government there to the threats that we ourselves face. He needs to spell it out, and he needs to say something where people in the streets of Iran will hear him rather than State Department statements that, which so far, Hugh, have suggested that the Obama administration is waiting for these sort of annoying democracy demonstrators to get out of the way so they can get back to negotiating with the mullahs about nuclear weapons.

HH: Now Claudia Rosett, I agree with that, and just had your colleague from Pajamas Media, Michael Ledeen, make the same point. And I got an e-mail from one of my smartest interlocutors on the internet, Hal, who said look, Mousavi’s the father of Iranian nuclear weapons. While it’s both horrible and hopeful to see Iran in the midst of chaos, Mousavi would be no better from an American point of view than Ahmadinejad. At least Ahmadinejad is a clearly defined enemy. How do you respond to that, Claudia Rosett?

CR: He’s…that is a great point. Okay, let me back up and try and be even more clear here. That’s absolutely right. I mean, Mousavi, the sort of…the instinct or just the unthinking reflex is to refer to the opponent as the reformist. People were talking about that, that was something I was on a conference call this morning, and no, he’s not a reformist. He’s the other guy, basically. This is, think more in terms of, for an analogy that might give some idea, the New Jersey mob fighting the New York City mob, okay? That’s what we have here. And the real problem, the basic problem which still needs addressing is the regime, that very unpopular word. Remember, Hugh, everybody out there, brace yourselves, I’m going to use the phrase that’s going to send us all running for the hills, regime change. That’s actually what’s needed. Behind both of them is this supreme council of these unelected, despotic ayatollahs, Ali Khamenei, who decides who may run for president, what will happen, how it will be addressed, and who basically controls the security apparatus. And what we’re actually seeing played out in the government is a fight among, between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad. And where I have yet to see the reporting that will explain things such as the actual business interests involved, the money that is sort of flowing behind these scenes.

HH: Sure, Rafsanjani is nothing but an oligarch.

CR: Yeah, precisely, exactly. And on that, we actually understand. The thing that I’ve been walking around today thinking is we need to understand a lot more about how exactly that oligarchy, an ayatollah oligarchy in Iran, works, because I think that’s crucial to understanding this whole tussle that’s going on. And into this come the voters of Iran who wanted, the basic demand that is clear is that they wanted their votes to count. And that did not happen, and so they’re not, you know, it’s easy to get swept up in thinking all right, you know, they actually just backed Mousavi, they wanted this guy instead of that guy. No, they wanted votes that would count. And that’s something where the American president ought to get out there and forcefully say that’s really important, and here’s why, and here’s what America stands for in that process, because the thing that still needs to go in Iran is that whole superstructure that presides over these elections. You know, and it’s funny, Hugh, there’s been this debate, you know, was the election really stolen by Ahmadinejad? Well, the election was never fair to begin with.

HH: Right, manipulated from the beginning. Now Claudia, we’ve got a minute left. Do you think there’s a genuine chance for regime change here?

CR: Hugh, very, you know, to really know, I’m not even sure the people on the ground right there know. There’s more a chance than there seems to have been at any time in many years. There’s more of a chance. Whether there’s a good chance, I don’t know. One of the questions I was asking someone from Radio Farda, which covers Iran for Radio Free Europe, are you seeing any of the security forces going over to the side of the protestors? The answer to that was no, they hadn’t seen any instances of that. So that suggests to me that you have a pretty solid lock by the government on control. On the other hand, Hugh, there has not been a moment of greater volatility, or better chance of some change, in a generation.

HH: On that note, Claudia Rosett, thanks for spending some time with us. We’ll check back as the days go past.

End of interview.

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