Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared a decisive winner in Friday's election--65 percent to challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi's 32 percent, according to Iran's state news agency--though Mousavi protested the results, alleging manipulation and fraud.
While it's unclear what the fallout in Iran will be--Mousavi supporters have already been disbursed with tear gas from around his headquarters--U.S. analysts have mixed opinions on what another four years of Ahmadinejad would mean.
Middle East Forum Director Daniel Pipes thinks we're better off with Ahmadinejad in office. The country's real power lies with its supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, not its president, he argues, and a Mousavi presidency would have lulled the world (and President Obama) to sleep in its dealings with Iran. Better to have Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner who more faithfully represents what Khamenei believes, and thus Iran's true nature.
Michael Rubin, an Iran expert with the American Enterprise Institute, shares that skepticism about the impact of a new president, though he didn't take sides in the election.
"When it comes to the nuclear program, it's pretty well acknowledged...that it's under control of the Revolutionary Guard," Rubin says. He cautions that Iranian diplomats don't always speak for their country--likely because they don't know what the Revolutionary Guard, and other elements of power within Iran's government, are up to. The Guard, viewed now as more in line with Ahmadinejad's politics, operates independently.
"'I think that the U.S. press coverage is getting a little bit ahead of itself," he said yesterday. "[There's a] conflation between the Iranian youth's desire for change and the Iranian president's ability to affect change."
Suzanne Maloney of Brookings takes another view. With an Ahmadinejad win, Iran's democcratic institutions would be discredited among the public, she says--especially in a landslide victory that's contested by Mousavi's supporters (which, coincidentally, is what's happened). It's "a worriesome outcome," she said Friday, when asked about a potential Ahmadinejad victory.
"The regime would feel more free to act without taking into account potential public reactions," Maloney says.
"It's going to be a lot harder, a lot slower going," she says. "There'll be a lot more skepticism to overcome, wither it's on the Hill, or whether it's among Israelis...a harder time in getting any concessions on the nuclear program."
One thing analysts agree on is that Obama would not have affected the election's outcome, anyway. After his speech in Cairo, and his video message to Iran earlier this year, some had speculated that he could foster support for a moderate candidate--that Iranians would reject Ahmadinejad after witnessing Obama's openness to giving them a seat at the international table.
Maloney and Rubin both agree that's unlikely.
Assuming Ahmadinejad remains Iran's president, and Mousavi does not succeed in overturning the results, the Obama administratoin will now begrudgingly engage the hard-liner, with whom it has avoided contact thusfar, knowing Ahmadinejad would be challenged in June (it's signaled it will engage regardless of the election results), and Obama's foreign policy will be put to the test with a hard-liner, not a moderate, speaking for Iran.