Do We Have Ahmadinejad All Wrong?
The Atlantic / Reza Aslan
26-Jan-2011 (45 comments)

Is it possible that Iran's blustering president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, long thought to be a leading force behind some of Iran's most hard-line and repressive policies, is actually a reformer whose attempts to liberalize, secularize, and even "Persianize" Iran have been repeatedly stymied by the country's more conservative factions? That is the surprising impression one gets reading the latest WikiLeaks revelations, which portray Ahmadinejad as open to making concessions on Iran's nuclear program and far more accommodating to Iranians' demands for greater freedoms than anyone would have thought. Two episodes in particular deserve special scrutiny not only for what they reveal about Ahmadinejad but for the light they shed on the question of who really calls the shots in Iran.
In October 2009, Ahamdinejad's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, worked out a compromise with world power representatives in Geneva on Iran's controversial nuclear program. But the deal, in which Iran agreed to ship nearly its entire stockpile of low enriched uranium to Russia and France for processing, collapsed when it failed to garner enough support in Iran's parliament, the Majles.

recommended by Shifteh Ansari



Very funny Rend - Now, how would Aslan sugar coat this one?

by Onlyiran on

//                                                                                                                                         "esraeel bayad az bein beravad." by Imam Khomeini         Let the  squirming begin!!!

No Fear


by No Fear on

We have to look at the relationship between politicians in the context of  cost vs. benefit in our politics. In IR diplomatic circle, no one is at odd with another. Only some offer better opportunity than others. This is the universal language of politics. As a politician, you must befriend anyone who might come handy later.

Keep this in mind when you are trying to understand the relationship between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei.

No one can deny how Ahmadinejad has reduced the influence and the far reach power of VF in our foreign policy, intelligence services, and in our administration. He has done this without calling Khamenei a dictator. Infact, he has shown tremendous respect towards the leader. This is strictly a matter of approach which differs from a revolutionary method. ( Ba panbeh sar boridan ).

Just recently, our anti Ahmadinejad parliament passed a bill that permits the parliament MPs to have the final say on who becomes the head of our National Bank. Ofcourse, Ahmadinejad strongly objected since the legislative body should NOT interfere with the administrative decisions. The arguement got to the Guardian council and the council gave the decision to Ahmadinejad. However, the parliament insisted on their position, so the matter was taken to the Expediency council headed by Rafsanjani. Well, the expediency council voted in favour of the parliament ( No surprise there ). This is when Ahmadinejad went to Khamenei to intervene which he did.

So, as you see, Khamenei is useful and comes handy when needed.



Niloufar Parsi

no fear

by Niloufar Parsi on

looks like simorgh has a lot to think about before responding.... :)

the relationship between ahmadinejad and VF is very unclear to me. sometimes it looks like they are at odds. a clear example was the kiss on the shoulder incident.

during the election mess, the way moussavi pre-empted the election results too quickly and effectively declared the system broken before anyone got a chance to examine it. so khamenei had to stand by the system.

the only explanation of this mess that makes sense is the one that concentrates on the rift between rafsanjani and khamenei. i think rafsanjani thinks khamenei owes him (it is true! he does!), and khamenei sees rafsanjani as a threat in the long run. 

i don't think ahmadinejad's problem with rafsanjani is related to khamenei. it is probably more to do with corruption and/or wanting a bigger share of the pie either in money terms or power or even both.

both rafsanjani and khamenei are part of the old guard. and their fight is probably about who should be the VF.

ahmadinejad on the other hand probably wants the VF concept scrapped altogether. this would give the president and the secular-leaning factions more power.

that's how i read the situation, but it's all based on general impressions. i don't claim to be sure. :)

how do you see it?


Niloufar Parsi


by Niloufar Parsi on

ok i'll take the second one. i can't answer the execution questions. am against capital punishment and am appalled at iran's record... i hope we will soon be able to put this feature of iranian politics behind us.

your question was:

"Explain the secret stash of weapons which were smuggled
into Mauritius, Nigeria, Gambia and Senegal? Why have so many weapons
been seized at once? Does it surprise you that these weapons were bound
for Gaza and the increased amount of rockets being fired into Israel?

first of all, in what sense is it wrong for iran to engage in the weapons trade? are you upset because the american+proxies monopoly on arms trade and smuggling is being disturbed by iran? 

or are you upset because iran is somehow 'involved' in that region? again, in what sense is it wrong for iran to try to engage in new markets?

if you are cmplaining about how the world politics works, then start with the biggest offenders like usa, uk and israel - i.e. international war criminals - so that you can be taken seriously.

the claim about those particular weapons going to gaza is almost certainly an israeli lie. why are you spreading israeli lies? 

btw, iranian support for gaza is admirable. anyone who cares for human rights would see that. the turks tried to help too and they got murdered in the high seas in front of the world's eyes. neverhteless, we should all continue to resist ethnic cleansing and not bow to israeli terror.

No Fear


by No Fear on

I will answer your first questions since i am simply nice. Otherwise, i would ignore you completely for joining so late and bombarding us with a questionnaire. We are not here to get interrogated. For future references, stick to the topic and debate one question at a time. Capiche ?

"Explain which previous administration had the highest rate of newspaper and media clampdowns with bloggers being executed?"

 Maybe so, but thats because there were never an explosion of ideas or press freedom as we witness it today in Iran. Even so, your statement is very deceiving. Many banned newspaper editors or writers have immediately started another newspapers while awaiting trial for previous offences. Ofcourse, if they have said something utterly stupid , then they know the consequences. To this type, activism is to knock a wall down by running towards it and banging your head first. Its playing the dare game. Heroism etc...

By the way, below is a link about the people who decide which paper gets banned or not. They are elected through a voting system. I leave it up to you to do your own research and findout who they are so you can improve your knowledge on the inner working of this body. Right now, you hardly interest me for a debate due to your lack of understanding how the system works. 



Apologists of terror

by Simorgh5555 on

Nilufar and Norooz are both birds of a feather. Together with Reza Aslan you are all part of the axis of evil. Perhaps you can explain why it is that since Ahmadinejad became Prime Minister six years ago there has ratcheted anti-Israeli hysteria and broken a taboo even by terrorist standards in questioning the Holocaust? - And don't use Israel's stance on the nuclear issue as an excuse because AN's vitriolic attacks began way before this nuclear charade. 

Explain which previous administration had the highest rate of newspaper and media clampdowns with bloggers being executed? 

Explain the secret stash of weapons which were smuggled into Mauritius, Nigeria, Gambia and Senegal? Why have so many weapons been seized at once? Does it surprise you that these weapons were bound for Gaza and the increased amount of rockets being fired into Israel?

Explain the execution binge and the increased social restrictions placed women in particular the gashte ershad and heavier fines for flouting the Islamic dress code?

Explain the laws passed by the Majlis with AN's approval which place women in greater disadvantage in terms of inheritance and even her irrelevance in giving consent to her husband who wants to enter into a polygamous marriage?

Explain which person other than a lunatic in charge of running a country with a population problem of 70 million people will encourage married couples to procreate and set funds in tunes of millions of dollars for this purpose?

Explain which President before AN embarked on such a vigorous policy to destroy secularism in universities so that they become institutions of the hidden 'imam zaman'. This hasn't been seen in 30 years! 

Aslan and the likes of both of you are smooth talking silver tongued agents of the IR who want to procrastinate the removal of this corrupt regime  

No Fear


by No Fear on

Yes I agree. The P5+1 could also be delaying a genuine effort to make a deal as well. They want to wait and see if the sanctions are going to be effective in 2-3 years time. You know, starve the country untill they accept a crappy deal is their policy and approach, some argue.

So far , we had the better position and the upper hand. Lets see how it pans out later.

I do see Ahmadinejad the agent of change. He is showing initiatives and determinations. Ofcourse your angle that he is the natural result of a deteriorating revolutionary ideology also makes sense as well. He is afterall, the first rightwing president in Iran in 30 years.

VF is not the most important problem our people are facing today, although it could be a problem with excessive political powers. Khamenei is no where near the influence and power Khomeini exercised during his era. I dont even think Khamenei really believes in the VF ideology himself either. He is said to criticize the VF concept in 1364  on a friday prayer sermon speech in Tehran. He was immediately criticised by khomeini and had to change his statement later.

Nevertheless, his support of Ahmadinejad's economical plan points to his pragmatical approach in regards to our economy ( He is a former president ). In comparison, Khomeini never displayed such characteristics. But on the otherhand, we can't ignore the undemocratic nature of VF either.

 So far, Khamenei has prevented two wars when our hotheaded revolutionary politicians (  like Mohtashemipour who is one of the Reformists main thinktank masters) were advocating siding with Sadam before the US invasion ( first gulf war ) in the name of defending muslim lands, and when our Sepah was ready to attack Taliban forces after they killed a dozen of our diplomats. Both his decisions are considered brilliant political moves today. He is a shrewd politician.

How to you see the relationship between Ahmadinejad's faction and the VF?


Niloufar Parsi

re. the 'deal'

by Niloufar Parsi on

seems to me that the p5+1 is in disarray and losing ground to iran almost every day. now their allies are falling by numbers too in the region. if iran had a stronger hand in iraq and afghanistan yesterday compared to last year, today she has a stronger hand in egypt, palestine and lebanon too compared to just a week ago!

every day that the p5+1 delays a deal with iran, its position becomes weaker. my guess is that this was the real reason for the 'failure' of the latest round of talks. the bullies could not bully enough as iran is getting stronger. and they couldn't take the reality of a loss either. so they left with 'no result'. but actually it was a good result for iran. for all practical purposes, the debate is already over in that iran is a nuclear power.

regarding ahmadinejad and his impact on the traditional conservatives, it's a bit of a chicken and egg question. you see him as the agent for this change, but one could also see him as a symptom of a deteriorating revolutionary ideology - as with all revolutionary ideologies after the revolution succeeds and then withers away - that needs to reinvent itself or become history.

am not dismissing or underestimating their power, but am simply saying that time is against them in the same way that it is against khamenei and the VF concept. without khomeini himself, the VF as an institution does not make much sense. his shoes are simply too big to fill.

similar to how castro junior cannot replace the real fidel!


No Fear


by No Fear on

Prior to Ahmadinejad, everyone in Iran thought the conservatives are mostly united in both foreign and internal affairs regarding Iran.

This camp is now divided between three main factions. Ahmadinejad had a very strong polarizing effect on this camp. Therefore, it is correct to assume the traditional conservatives in Iran are a shrinking group. But do not underestimate their power. Groups like the Motalefeh ( Asgarolladi ) have actually been around longer than IR. ( They assasinated Hasan ali Mansour Iran's Prime minister ). They also have tremendous influence over Iran " bazars" ( Translation: control over imports ). They have roots in our society. We can not ignore the support many of these traditional conservative groups enjoy in Iran. Mostly among our strictly religious segment of our society. So, while politically they are weakened, they are capable of a strong comeback.

Thats why people like Ahmadinejad are extremely important in our politics. Ahmadinejad has taken a big chunk of the conservative support base and has introduced progressive ideas within it. Think about this and its implications for a minute.

Whether its Ahmadinejad or anyone else, if they see the sanctions or the threat of war is imminent and could have disasterous results for our country, they will make the deal with 5+1. But the real question is what is the deal. To be more precise, do you make the deal at the %3 level , or %20 or %90 enrichment?. There was a time when we couldn't even have a nuclear powerplant. But now we have it. Then we couldn't be allowed to produce yellow cake, but thats history now. Then they said you could only have 6 centifuges, but now its 6000. Today they are asking us to stop on %20 enrichment. Go figure ... We have already won.

We are really close to reach our nuclear goals of being self sufficient in this industry. There is no need to enrich further than %20. I think we are close to a deal ( probabely in one year ) since we can guarantee no further enrichment after 20 percent.

I am almost certain that we will prevail yet again.


Niloufar Parsi

no fear

by Niloufar Parsi on

from your description, the traditional conservatives seem like a shrinking group. time and demographics are against them.

your point about their agreement on foreign policy is something that is worth looking into some more. what is your take on the reason for this unity? it probably extends to almost all the factions inside iran. is it reflective of popular support for this foreign policy? or is it tied to the tide of revolution continuing till today? my reading is that the majority in iran support the basic fundamentals of existing policy but differ on priorities and details. this for example makes any significant concessions on the nuclear issue very difficult. as the article says in fact!

i enjoyed your take on salehi! let's see how he does. was just thinking: it's a clever move to make the head of the nuclear programme also the foreign minister. when he is in the room, the 5+1 can't so easily separate the issues that iran wants lumped together.


No Fear


by No Fear on

Excellent questions and as usual , not easy to answer.

What i meant about the revolutionary attributes of the " traditional " conservatives, was their absolute loyalty to khomeinism without making any compromise. These are the strongest supporters of the VF concept. They will also provide the strongest opposition to any change in our civil laws. These are the hardliners who believe in the essence of our " revolution" and its principles. They are the main reason behind the sharp increase in execution numbers ( Ayat. Sadeq Larijani ). In regards to the economy, they are not united and you can find mostly socialists and some free market advocates, but they are all united in some sort of government control over economy. They opposed every attempt by Ahmadinejad to reduce the government size. The similarity between them and Ahmadinejad faction is mostly on foreign affairs and their position in regards to the aftermath of the presidential election.

In regards to claims of Ahmadinejad's relationship with Sepah, nobody can provide any proof. Its all speculations. Sepah participation in our economy is due to necessity. But you asked where Ahmadinejad gets his confidence.... I don't know. He is doing his job as a smart politician. We really lack good politicians in Iran. ( compare to the reformists, anyone would look more gutsy. ;) )

I don't think Salehi has been active enough on the parliament floor or  with other factions to be considered as a viable candidate. The president role in Iran is usually given to a person who can take punches from his political rivals while his ministers can do their jobs without getting distracted. Salehi doesn't look like he can be a punching bag. He is just a brass rat from MIT. He is cut to be a minister, not a president.


Niloufar Parsi

no fear, thanks

by Niloufar Parsi on

for the response, and also for the educational link. i really enjoyed reading that blog of yours again. i can appreciate the initiative you took back then better now.

one question that comes to mind: i can't quite grasp the concept of a 'revolutionary conservative'. is it their belief in the market system that makes them 'conservative'? a right wing revolutionary? but the revolution was all about a socialist or a mixed economy model. so what revolutionary attributes do they possess? cultural ones alone?

back to the original topic, the issue about the sepah is really about how safe khamenei feels with them. the extent of support within sepah for a challenge to the velayat concept is the question. ahmadinejad looks a little too confident in how he carries himself, and takes risks almost every day.

in any case, anyone who makes such a challenge could really use such support, to put it mildly!

the personality cult thing is quite universal i'd guess, from hollywood to bollywood.

don't know much about Hadad Adel. how about salehi as a candidate?


G. Rahmanian you nailed it

by Pahlevan on

"Divaaneh Cho Divaaneh Bebinad Khoshash Aayad!"

That's exactly why this west-residing Islamist moron is romanticizing Ahmadinejad (and IRI in general). I always cringe when they introduce him as an "Iran expert" on some news channels. Fortunately though, it seems like most have realized that Aslan is no expert ... At anything frankly! and have stopped giving him a platform to spew out his BS!


Mardom Mazloom Jan ... the better question is ...

by Pahlevan on

"So what he f... this hajieh is doing on this site?"

Mardom Mazloom Jan, I think the better question is:

So what he f... this hajieh is doing living in belaad-e kofr and gharb-e faased?


Why was my and shifte's comments here flagged?!!

by Roozbeh_Gilani on

What did we say which came across as offensive? I merely mentioned 97 political prisoners murdered this month only by this allegedly "reformist" President ahmadinezhad! Shifteh's offence was to suggest someone to write a blog responding to this article by Mr Aslan, giving hiim a chance to respond.

Truth must hurt sooooo bad!  


G. Rahmanian


by G. Rahmanian on

champions Hitler and what he stood for, too!!!

G. Rahmanian

Didn't I Tell You?

by G. Rahmanian on

Aslan and Ahmadinejad are not the only crazy ones! "Divaaneh Cho Divaaneh Bebinad Khoshash Aayad!"


Vay Mordam az khandeh

by ImtheKing on

Baba No Fear, who do you think you'd convince with your logic of a mentally deficient guy?

I bet that your disguised anti-imperialist friend will respond "oh, yes No Fear! A very good analysis, I also think ... " (oh sorry everthing in lowercase: oh, yes no fear! a very good analysis ...) 

For our distraction, please go on. It's so fun to see you guys reasoning. hi hi!

No Fear


by No Fear on

By putting all the eggs in to one basket ( Mashaei ) , Ahmadinejad could be making a grave mistake.

Although i support Mashaei and what he stands for, I believe obtaining support for a politician who has almost no chance of becoming a candidate due to the Guardian Council filtering process, would be an end to our first progressive rightwing administration after their term is up.

While most of Iran's politicians are members of political parties who share the same goals and methods with its members, Ahmadinejad's factions seems to be followers of " personalities" rather than being defined in a political group. This is one my biggest criticism of Ahmadinejad's faction. However, this has been an effective method during election times.

The relationship between Sepah and Ahmadinejad is blown out of proportions. Ahmadinejad is respected by sepah and the respect is mutual. But this does not mean Ahmadinejad gets his order from sepah commanders.

I think within the conservative camp, Hadad Adel would be their common candidate. He has been close to Ahmadinejad but also has ties to Larijani. This is the only solution for rightwing conservative  and modern progressive alliances. If they are not allied, and if Mashaei gets the middle finger from guardian council, expect a sweep from reformists in the next presidential election.


Mardom Mazloom

The anti-imperialist haj-khanoom says:

by Mardom Mazloom on

i honestly think that the distance between iranian political discourse as seen on this site and reality on the ground is way too large.



"So what he f... this hajieh is doing on this site?" asked Hazrat shotor!!

Niloufar Parsi

shifteh ansari

by Niloufar Parsi on

let me first emphasize that i would not for a second question your love for iran.  so please see what follows from the perspective of someone who is trying to comprehend. 

i think you are being a little unfair to the likes of the leveretts who
have been among a very few holding on to their convictions for years on
end swimming against the tide. now after some years we are seeing the
fruits of their labour. more and more people are seeing their position
as the real realists' one.

and in fact there were more professional strategists with this outlook than we
might think. it's just that they were more coy about it. for example, i know Stratfor have been signalling america's need for (or interest in) détente
with iran for some years.

i honestly think that the distance between iranian political discourse
as seen on this site and reality on the ground is way too large. people
here are constantly looking for ways to smash things up and to 'get' the

it's not a constructive approach and it mimics america's political culture (and foreign policy).

ahmadinejad is not a demon. he was elected president by the majority,
and the losing side, the greens, fell victim to rafsanjani's schemes.

we should be able to discuss iran's internal politics and to utter
ahmadinejad's name without resorting to demagoguery. aslan is moving the
debate forward, in my view.

i am keen to learn more about  ahmadinejad's faction within the sepah, what unites them (if they are) and how they relate to the factions of larijani
and qalibaf. the workings inside the sepah are quite important to learn
about right now in trying to understand what has sparked this ahmadinejad-mashaei act and why they are so confident.




by Fair on

Thank you for telling it as it is and speaking the truth.  The coup that brought this tyrant to power should be remembered with much more vigor and shame than the coup of 1953, which was nowhere nearly as violent or brutal.  And this time we have only Iranians to blame, not the Brits or the AMericans or CIA or MI6 or anybody.  Just our own internal backward forces, the biggest enemy of democracy in Iran.  Those who try to portray it otherwise are just feeding the military dictatorship's propaganda campaign.  We have seen no shortage of these fascists come here and unsuccessfully try to push this anti Iranian agenda.

Thank you once again.

Shifteh Ansari

Niloufar Parsi

by Shifteh Ansari on

You are not alone. There are many who, like I said, romanticize Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Aslan only just decided to enter the realm previously very comfortably dominated by Hillary and Flynt Leverett and Kaveh Afrasiabi, singing Mahmoud's praises and denying that anything significant happened inside Iran last year.

I have seen the likes of this sentiment, so there is nothing "refreshing" about it for me. I just find it wrong and irresponsible for Reza Aslan to appear as an "Iran expert" and feed such an inaccurate presentation of Ahmadinejad to the west, not through any research he did, mind you, but by referencing Wikileaks documents! Whether he romanticizes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or not, he will not be able to change the facts on the ground about how Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power and how he stayed there. He cannot change the nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran which is gaining the appearances and practices of a full military rule, trying to do away with the few remaining vestiges of a half-hearted democracy in Iran.

He and "analysts" like him may continue to feed the west with this new, "refreshing" image of what in fact is nothing but a brutal and incompetent president of Iran who came to power through fraud, murder, torture, and unprecedented oppression.

For Iranians who all know they did not vote for him, for those whose lives have been completely destroyed by the military coup which has been taking shape in Iran for the past decade, and for those who truly love Iran and wish only the very best for it, Mr. Aslan and his like-minded "experts" provide nothing but shame. At least the Leveretts are non-Iranians.

Niloufar Parsi

shifteh jan

by Niloufar Parsi on

thank you for posting this. you clearly disagree with the content, but i find him refreshingly realistic and highly pertinent for an informed discussion on what is happening in the puzzle of iranian politics.

i just heard an al jazeera story on a new wikileak apparently showing a
$50 million donation from the palestinian authority to moussavi's cause.
go figure!

Anahid Hojjati

Who wants to write a blog criticizing what Reza Aslan is up to?

by Anahid Hojjati on


someone should blog it and then we can make sure he gets it. if someone blogs it, I promise to ensure that he will see it. Now, who wants to write that blog?

By the way, I have been reading his writings and in the past year (or maybe a bit longer), he has become worse. I think he has figured out what positions will guarantee that he gets interviewed and attention and he is taking those positions. I would not even be surprised if now he is someone's agent, because of rather radical shift in his views.


His website

by vildemose on


  • Contact:
  • Connect:

    twitter facebook my(fan)space

  • He has a fan club??Hahahah


    Can someone write a letter

    by vildemose on

    Can someone write a letter to this clown and take him to task??? What does he do for living? How did he become an expert? Can he even speak Persian??


    حجب و حیاش منو کشته



    این رضا اصلان الحق و الانصاف که پسر با حیا و خجالتیی هست. نییگاه کنین چه فینتی  میگه:  

    The expression "wipe from the map" means "destroy" in English but not in Farsi. In Farsi, it means not that Israel should be eliminated but that the existing political borders should literally be wiped from a literal map and replaced with those of historic Palestine.

    یکی‌ نیس بهش بگه باجون خجالت نکش انگلیسی‌ "محو" شدن نمی‌شه


    میدونی‌ چی‌ می‌شه، می‌شه:


    میگی‌ نه بیا اینم سندش

    خودتون امتحان کنین



    تا که آخوند و قجر زنده در ایرانند، این

    ننگ را کشور دارا به کجا خواهد برد

    (عارف قزوینی)


    Aslan full of it

    by Fair on

    Once again he proves how clueless he is.  AN a reformer?  How about just another power hungry thug who is doing what it takes to get more power in his Islamic system?  i.e. talk out of both sides of his mouth, throw smoke to cover his tracks when convenient, and fish from muddy waters?  Shifteh is asbolutely right- this scum has blood dripping from his dirty hands, openly calls the people of Iran dirt and dust, and presides over a government which is kept in power through one of the most oppressive campaigns currently on the planet- one which routinely employs rape, murder, execution and imprisonment without trial, not to mention the worst record in the world when it comes to freedom of the press.  These are among his "accomplishments" that No Fear and others like him tout here.  Add to that one of the most isolated states our country has ever been in, and economic hardship despite record high oil prices, and an international reputation last to none (we had the Taliban to thank before for making us not last in the world, but they are gone now).

    This Aslan guy passes himself off as an "expert on Islam", yet he does not even know Arabic and cannot read the Koran or communicate with an average muslim in the middle east.  This "commentary" of his is just another reflection of that.  I wish Americans who are his audience knew better than to listen to such "experts".


    load of bullocks!

    by Roozbeh_Gilani on

    Here we have, these good for nothing west residing gutless, clueless "intellectuals", frightened and shaken by the arrest and knee jerk TV "confessions" of their "leaders" on the islamist TV, now looking at this little wanabe hitler, the scum bag hojjatist ahmadinezhad for salvation! Let's not forget that this is all happenning whilst the best and bravest of the Iranoian youth or being sent to the gallows, one every eight hours since the begining of this year! Anybody still hoping for "reform" of this fascistic islamist dictatorship is either a complete fool or paid agent of the islamist regime.