Rouhani, Khamenei & Jafari
Rouhani’s inauguration approaches (August 4). The general surprise at his win over Khamenei’s protégées – two of them endorsed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps – (IRGC) – might show that the Supreme Leader is not as Supreme as he may want to be, and/or that the IRGC might have potential unrest on its hands.
Or perhaps Khamenei finally realized that Rouhani could be an asset in two key inter-related fields close to his heart: the nuclear standoff and the resulting sanctions.
In any case, although Khamenei and the IRGC issued messages of cooperation with Rouhani, they cannot be anything but ambivalent about any future move by Rouhani that diverges from strategic policy.
Rouhani as a Juggler
As his campaign and post-election declarations indicate, Rouhani has no intention of stopping Tehran’s nuclear program, peaceful or not. But being the “Diplomat Mullah” that he is, he knows that sanctions will only be lifted with greater transparency and removal of even the smallest sign of any military aspect of the program.
As long as the suspect parts of the program are not halted, Khamenei and the IRGC will most probably support Rouhani. It is hard to imagine, however, that the IRGC will back Rouhani on real concessions.
To do so, he will have to negotiate with the West while negotiating simultaneously with Khamenei and the IRGC, a seemingly impossible situation in which he will be damned if he does (make concessions) and damned if he doesn’t.
So, Who is Really in Control?
Who controls Tehran? How much leeway does Rouhani really have? Can he realistically sell a more appeasing version of Tehran to the West?
Rouhani obviously received the people’s support, but that support can be ignored if Khamenei decides to overrule it.
Rouhani’s relationship with Khamenei is reportedly a good one, but Khamenei’s partnership with the IRGC is much stronger: Khamenei cannot forget that the IRGC supported his bid for the office of Supreme Leader (while the clerics didn’t). Since he took office, the IRGC’s power has grown exponentially.
Furthermore, it should be noted that the sanctions Rouhani will try to lessen actually helped the IRGC to consolidate its power by eliminating foreign competition, increasing the profitability of smuggling by IRGC operatives, and providing legitimacy to Khamenei’s paranoia of the West.
For now, Rouhani has breathing room facilitated by his voters and a relatively sympathetic and hopeful West. But when push comes to shove, he will find it hard to juggle with one hand tied behind his back.
The IRGC & Khamenei vs. Rouhani
Iranian presidents have come and gone, but the regime’s overarching goals linger on. And since the raison d’etre for the IRGC is “to actualize Islam in people’s life (sic) and transform society into an ideal Islamic society…while preserving the principles of the revolution“, its duty is to protect and uphold the Khamenei’s control – of which it is a major part.
Former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani summed up the IRGC’s power base quite succinctly when he said: “(the IRGC) controls the economy as well as domestic and foreign policy and they will not be satisfied with anything short of the entire country…only the supreme leader could rein in the Revolutionary Guards” and conversely, since Khamenei’s word is law, “as long as the supreme leader supports the IRGC, any action it takes is legal“.
We have much more to say about the IRGC; our next post will focus on its control on politics and politicians in Iran.