Western media mourn the death of 'moderate' Iranian Rafsanjani
Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani died over the weekend and the western press is singing his praises as one of the true "moderate" Iranian leaders.
The Atlantic's obit is typical:
Following Khomeini’s death, Rafsanjani became president in elections in 1989. As president, he tried to ease social controls, open up the economy to the private sector, and improve relations with the outside world, particularly the United States. He also launched a program of reconstruction to deal with the physical damage inflicted by the war with Iraq. Pursuing ties with the United States, he offered a billion-dollar contract to the American oil firm Conoco—a deal that was blocked by President Bill Clinton, for reasons that remain unclear. Rafsanjani’s government also eased social controls: Women were freer to choose their style of Islamic head covering and to wear makeup in public, young men and women could mix more freely in public, and the revolution-era ban on music was eased. Rafsanjani’s minister of culture, Mohammad Khatami, lifted many controls over book publishing, film-making, and theater performances. Rafsanjani, however, displayed little interest in easing controls over the press and political activity.
While Rafsanjani, during his first four years as president, was more influential than Khamenei, that dynamic would eventually reverse. Using the vast authority vested in the supreme leader, his considerable powers of patronage, and careful cultivation of the commanders of the Revolutionary Guards and the heads of the security agencies, Khamenei became the dominant figure in Iran by Rafsanjani’s second term, as hardline policies in foreign and domestic policy alike prevailed.
Apparently, the difference between "moderate" and "hard-line" leaders in Iran is that under the so-called moderates, women get to wear makeup and don't have to cover their heads. Otherwise, there is little difference in the goals of the regime when it comes to fighting the West and destroying Israel.
AEI quoted another "moderate," current president Rouhani, who revealed how this designation was taken advantage of by Iran:
The principal issue for us is to change the threat into an opportunity… Our policy… was to defend against threats; to foil America’s plot. Wherever America’s plots are defeated, it’s very pleasant and likable. Our nation rejoices it. What did America want to do? America wanted to take our case to the [UN] Security Council… We wanted to turn this threat into an opportunity; not to let this reach the Security Council; not to let the country fall into a war; not to let the country suffer sanctions… America wanted to impose on us the same catastrophe it inflicted upon Libya. It wanted what we had in nuclear technology not to be completed, and that we surrender what we had already. What we aimed to do was to create a space so that this technology is completed. The day when we invited three European ministers, there were only 10 centrifuges active in Natanz. We weren’t able to produce one gram of UF4 and UF6… The total number of our centrifuges across the country was 150. We wanted to complete all these. We needed time… We didn’t allow Iran to be attacked. In those serious circumstances… when America had just – Bush and the craziness of that neocon government you remember…- invaded Afghanistan and occupied Iraq within three weeks. And they were thinking Iran would be next…
The myth of a Western-style "moderate" in Iran runs deep in the Western press. Rafsanjani was apt to smile a lot and present a nearly human face to the world. Behind the scenes, he was a ruthless manipulator and a terrorist. Under his presidency (1989-97), several prominent Iranian dissidents living overseas were assassinated.
Rafsanjani was also a master thief. He was able to amass a fortune in excess of $1 billion according to Forbes, by placing family members in charge of key companies around the country.
How "moderate" was Rafsanjani? While the decision to build a nuclear weapon was made by Ayatollah Khomenei, it was President Rafsanjani who spearheaded the effort to make it a reality. In the 1990s, he brought in experts from North Korea and Pakistan as well as purchasing hardware from those countries that got the nascent Iranian nuclear program off the ground (all in violation of international law). It would not be an exaggeration to call him the father of the Iranian bomb.
So why does the Western press continually call these radicals "moderates"? It's all relative. Figures like Rafsanjani are slightly less fanatical than the Mahmoud Ahmadinejads of Iran. What the former president Ahmadinejad lacked in subtly (Israel will be "wiped off the map"), Rafsanjani made up for in style, if not substance. Where Ahmadinejad and his fellow fanatics seemed alien to the Western press, Rafsanjani appeared to be just another familiar politician. The studied persona of Rafsanjani was practiced and deliberate. It was designed to lull the West into a false sense of security.
And it worked brilliantly.