Hillary Clinton Views Previous Iranian Governments as ‘Democratically Elected’

By Patrick Goodenough | February 16, 2010 | 4:25 AM EST

U.S.Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton holds a press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Monday, Feb. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

(CNSNews.com) – Expanding her views on Iran “becoming a military dictatorship,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps was increasingly filling the space once held by Iran’s clerical and political leaders.
Speaking in Saudi Arabia Monday evening alongside Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, Clinton said she and her Saudi counterpart shared the hope that “the religious and political leaders of Iran act to take back the authority which they should be exercising on behalf of the people.”
She suggested that the situation in Iran today has changed from an earlier one in which Iran had “democratically elected governments – whether one agreed with them or not – which had the support of the Iranian people.”
Earlier in the day, Clinton told students in Qatar that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was “supplanting” the government, the supreme leader, the president and parliament, “and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship.”
The comments were clearly designed to win support for sanctions targeting the IRGC.
“We are planning to try to bring the world community together in applying pressure to Iran through sanctions adopted by the United Nations that will be particularly aimed at those enterprises controlled by the Revolutionary Guard,” she said.
Clinton’s assertion that past elections in Iran have produced “democratically-elected governments” is disputable.
In the 2005 presidential election, for instance, the Council of Guardians, an unelected legal-religious body appointed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ruled that only six of more than 1,000 prospective candidates could stand for election. Among those ruled ineligible among the 1,014 hopefuls were 89 women, and a number of “reformists.”
(After opposition complaints, Khamenei permitted two more candidates to compete.)
The election itself defied earlier opinion polls, which indicated that either former president Hashemi Rafsanjani or former higher education minister Mostafa Moin would win.
Instead, Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came from nowhere to take close second place to Rafsanjani in the first round, and beat him easily in a runoff a week later.
Both Rafsanjani and another defeated candidate, former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi, alleged that Ahmadinejad’s campaign had been illegally aided by IRGC and other regime elements.
The British government decried “serious deficiencies” in the election and the Bush State Department said the election showed Iran was “out of step” with the direction being taken by Iraq and Lebanon at the time.
In legislative elections one year earlier, the Guardian Council disqualified more than 2,000 candidates, many of them reformists, from contesting.
In fact, in every presidential election held in the Islamic Republic of Iran since the first in 1980, the Guardian Council has disqualified the vast majority of aspirants. The most it ever allowed was ten candidates in 2001 – ten out of 814 who had applied for a candidacy. In last year’s poll, four candidates out of nearly 500 applicants were approved.
The democracy watchdog Freedom House has been scoring countries on political rights and civil liberties every year for decades, with “one” the best score and “seven” the worst. Iran’s grades for political rights have never moved higher than “five.”
The IRGC’s influence in the Iranian government is not a new development. Even though Iranian law prohibits political activity by IRGC members, former senior officials have moved seamlessly into top government posts.
When Ahmadinejad – himself a former IRGC officer – was first elected in 2005, exiled opposition groups noted that 13 of his 21 cabinet picks had backgrounds in the IRGC or affiliated units. They included top posts such as foreign affairs and defense.
That pattern has carried into his second-term cabinet, where former Guards commanders include the defense minister (who is wanted by Argentina in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires) as well as the ministers of intelligence, interior, communication and oil.
The IRGC was set up as the “guardian of the Islamic Revolution” after the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. Three years later, a 1,500-strong IGRC force was sent to Lebanon, where it oversaw the establishment of Hezbollah, the terrorist group that the following year was the principal suspect in deadly bombings of the U.S Embassy and U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut.
Over the past decade and more, annual State Department reports on global terrorism have consistently reported on Iran’s key involvement in state-sponsored terror. Researchers attribute much of that activity to the IRGC, and in particular to its Quds (Jerusalem) Force, which is believed to oversee terrorism abroad.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow