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Iran's New President: Limited Power in a Rigged System


The newly elected President of Iran has no room to maneuver


Despite the election of reformist Masoud Pezeshkian as Iran's new president, his impact on the country's domestic and international strategic policies is unimportant. Many in the West were quick to commend his election, expressing hope that he would bring change to Iran's diplomacy and conduct. They highlight his support for the JCPOA, human rights, women, and media freedom as positive indicators. However, Iran’s president has little influence over key areas, including export of the revolution, security, foreign, economic, and internal affairs, which are strictly controlled by Supreme Leader Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).


A Historical Pattern of Powerlessness


Historically, Iran's presidents have faced significant challenges, often ending their terms in disgrace or worse. For instance, Ebrahim Raisi died mysteriously in a helicopter crash, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani suddenly drowned in his swimming pool, Mir Hossein Moussavi has been under house arrest for 13 years, Muhammad Khatami is prohibited from appearing in the media, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is banned from travel. The constitution names the president as Iran’s second-highest official, but unelected bodies like the IRGC, state broadcasters, and the Guardian Council, which vets all candidates, hold the real power.


The Illusion of Change

Western media already highlight Pezeshkian's moderate reformist stance and support for JCPOA talks, human rights, and efforts to remove Iran from the blacklist of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). However, these are often shallow attributes. The supreme leader and the IRGC dictate Iran's actual guidelines and doctrinesPezeshkian’s administration is more likely to be tasked with mitigating the adverse effects of Iran’s aggressive foreign policies, addressing the collapsing economy and infrastructure exacerbated by international sanctions, and attempting to present a more favorable image of the country to the world. The economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies have significantly crippled Iran's economy, leading to inflation, unemployment, and shortages of essential goods. Pezeshkian's government will need to navigate these challenges. Despite his moderate stance, Pezeshkian's influence will be limited by the real power and ideological zeal held by the supreme leader and the IRGC.


The West and its media are vested in interpreting any sign of moderation within Iran's leadership as a potential breakthrough for diplomatic and economic engagements. This exposé helps justify efforts to negotiate with Iran, aiming to curb its nuclear ambitions and regional aggressions. The West's ongoing attempts to appease Iran are due to its increasing influence and destabilizing actions in the Middle East and beyond. Iran's growing power, fueled by its regional interferences and projection of military capabilities, poses significant challenges to Western interests and allies in the region.


Under President Biden, there has been a concerted effort to re-engage with Iran diplomatically, mainly through attempts to revive the JCPOA, contrasting sharply with former President Trump’s policy of maximum pressure, which involved stringent sanctions and withdrawal from the nuclear agreement. Biden’s team believes in the potential of diplomatic negotiations to bring about compliance and stability, while Trump’s administration emphasized isolating and economically crippling Iran to force a change in behavior.


Pezeshkian's Background


Masoud Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old former health minister and cardiologist, has been a prominent reformist figure. In a parliamentary session in June 2019, Pezeshkian vociferously supported the downing of a US RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, describing it as a "punch in the mouth of criminal America," with lawmakers chanting "Death to America" following his speech. He is deeply loyal to Iran's Supreme Leader and was backed by major reformist groups, including former President Mohammad Khatami, moderate ex-President Hassan Rouhani, and former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Despite his reformist label, Pezeshkian's influence will be limited by the absolute power of the supreme leader and the IRGC.


No Impact on Iran's Support for the Resistance Front and Role in the War in Gaza


Despite Pezeshkian’s election, Iran's unwavering support for the Resistance Front and its stance calling for the destruction of Israel are unlikely to change. The real power in Iran lies with the supreme leader and the IRGC, who have consistently supported and cultivated these policies. Pezeshkian's moderate tag does not grant him any authority to revise these deeply entrenched ideological stances. Thus, Iran's aggressive posture towards Israel and support for terrorist groups in the region will likely continue unabated.


Iran's involvement in the war in Gaza and its support for a multi-front conflict against Israel further underscore the supreme leader's tight control over foreign policy and the export of the revolution. The IRGCQF has been instrumental in providing military and financial support to Hamas and Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen, and the Shiite militias in Iraq, facilitating coordinated missile and drone attacks on Israel from multiple fronts. This strategy aims to stretch Israel's military capabilities and increase pressure on its security apparatus and civil society. Pezeshkian's presidency is unlikely to affect these dynamics, as the IRGC and Khamenei maintain their hardline stance and support for these militant groups as part of Iran's national security doctrine to weaken and eventually eliminate Israel.


Conclusion


The election of Masoud Pezeshkian may result in superficial changes that the West will exploit to continue its appeasement policy towards Iran. However, the real power over Iran's political and security policies remains firmly with unelected bodies led by the supreme leader and the IRGC. While Pezeshkian’s rhetoric might appeal to the West, the true nature of Iran’s governance structure ensures that substantial policy shifts are unlikely. Observers should temper their expectations regarding any significant reforms or changes in Iran’s strategic direction toward regional dominance under his presidency.

 

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