You can call him a puppet, you can call him a scarecrow. Just don't call Iranian President Ahmadinejad a leader. A leader, by definition, is a policy maker. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by definition, is a policy implementer. He is the front man for the true rulers of Iran, The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the ruling Religious Council. They decree, he makes sure it happens.
The choice of Ahmadinejad as the supreme representative of his country's religious leadership was brilliant, the man is a public relations dream. He has charisma, even charm. He is an anti-intellectual intellectual. He is comfortable in front of the masses and he wears those classic-cut double knit leisure suits. In a religious theocracy like Iran "president" is simply a title given to the agent of the religious leadership, no more and no less. He must be a true believer in the religious mission, as Ahmadinejad is, but he is chosen not for his leadership ability, but quite the opposite, for his penchant for bureaucracy and his ability to put a public face on oftentimes unpopular policy and dictates.
Like a puppet, his strings are pulled and his movements are choreographed from high on up. Yes, the president sits on The Supreme Council but there is no doubt that every decision taken by that Council is informed and directed by The Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. President Ahmadinejad's only independent role is to convey the message that he has been assigned.
Like a scarecrow, he is in place to intimidate Iranians and to frighten the West. The West sees Ahmadinejad as the symbol of a religiously run nation. He presents the image of one who will do anything for the sake of his religious belief. That includes engaging in even the most self destructive of national behaviors, like nuclear proliferation and the demolition of eternal enemy Israel, threats that if ever implemented will certainly force retaliation upon the people of Iran. Ahmadinejad persists with the rhetoric, for his rulers as for him, it is all a question of honor.
The reality is that Ahmadinejad is a unique blend, he is part puppet and part scarecrow. And sometimes, even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad forgets his place in the hierarchy of Iranian rule. Sometimes, Iran's president oversteps the bounds of his mandate. Ahmadinejad has been called on the proverbial carpet several times this year by The Supreme Leader. In January, for example, remarks made by the president asserting that Iran would be engaging in short range missile tests incensed the United States and needed mollification. On these occasions Khamenei is compelled to take the unusual step of publicly clarifying the missed message delivered by his over zealous president. He reminds Ahmadinejad of his true place in Iranian society, reminds him that he is a blacksmith, a working class member of society, not a policy maker and certainly not a religious leader, he is their hired thug.
Iran's biggest fear right now is that pressure from the United States will stimulate a revolution - a people's revolution - from within. That fear is so palpable that once again Khamenei himself has stepped into the public limelight, addressing the people of Iran, ranting and raving against the United States. That fear is so great that this time he is not speaking in place of Ahmadinejad, but alongside him. The Supreme Leader does not trust the puppet to appropriately address this grave new challenge to Iran, does not trust the scarecrow to adequately insinuate the message of fear.
Iran has always held the advantage in psychological warfare. Ahmadinejad would utter outrageous declarations expressly to intimidate his local and international audience and force them to be on the defensive. Now the United States has categorized the Iranian Republic Guard as a terrorist organization and Iranian leadership is ranting and raving as a means of damage control. Ironically, the United States had no inkling that they were pushing such a strong emotional button when the policy decision was made to criticize the Guard.
Until now, the people of Iran assumed that the horror of the Iranian Republic Guard was a safe, dirty little secret. They knew that they lived in fear of and were completely terrorized by their leaders, their police and army but they didn't know that anyone else knew. Now the Iranian people, the street, have a question. "Our religious leadership knew that we were being terrorized and they sponsored it. The United States knows that we are being terrorized and they are speaking out to stop it. Who is the real savior and who is the real Satan?"
Ahmadinejad is facing one of the biggest challenges of his career. If Iranian leadership fails to ward off an insurrection by the people, rest assured that they, themselves, will not accept the blame. The puppet will have his strings cut off, the scarecrow will be beheaded.
By Micah Halpern