Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
photo: FARS News Agency
Following Brexit and the rising rightward tilt in European politics, and then the election of Donald Trump, the world seemed to be spinning away from democratic ideals. Then came France's unexpectedly large majority for Emmanuel Macron's election as president over the hard right Marine Le Pen. Perhaps the rightward tide has reversed, or at least stalled.
Iran held it's presidential election this week and the moderate, reformist President Hassan Rouhani easily won re-election with 57% to of the vote to 38% for the hard-line, conservative cleric. This is being read as support for internal reform, as well as for fruitful exchange with the outside world. It also represents a setback for the powerful Iranian Royal Guards.
According to CNN's report, Rouhani's first term "was marked by an emergent international outreach." He was a "key architect" of the 2015 nuclear deal, as he skillfully balanced the multi-national agreement negotiations despite the public opposition of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Of course, in Iran's theocracy, the Supreme Leader still has ultimate control; and that limits how much Rouhani can accomplish. But the fact that he has survived one full term, and got an impressive majority in his re-election bid, suggests that his political skills and delicate management of the relationship with the clerics may let him and his supporters continue to make progressive changes.
This does not change the geopolitical balances, however. Iran still sides with Russia in supporting Assad in Syria, and they are still assumed to be responsible for terrorist activities in the region. It's not clear how much control Rouhani has over any of that -- or whether that's part of his trade-off with the right-wing that allow him to achieve domestic progress.
Drawing a circle around all that and looking just at who is in the US's best interest to be president of Iran, no doubt it's Rouhani. Let's hope that Donald Trump lets up on his criticism of the nuclear deal and doesn't mess that up. He seems bent on building up the Saudis as opponents of Iran, his bug-a-boo enemy in the Middle East. And demonizing Iran, rather than welcoming the moderating influence of leaders like Rouhani.
Trump is currently in Saudi Arabia, in a game of mutual courtship and business deals with his kind of people -- billionaires, who don't let human rights interfere with their exercise of power. He's just signed a $110 billion deal to sell them military hardware, plus the possibility of up to another $200 billion in "other investments."
Trump is hailing all this as "jobs, jobs, jobs" for Americans. And, on top of that, the King ceremoniously gave him a medal, after honoring him by welcoming him at the foot of the stairs of Air Force One. There are billboard sized portraits of Trump all over Riyadh, and he's being treated like a king. It must be a bit of balm for his wounded ego.
He'd better soak it all up. Trouble will be waiting for him when he gets home.