President Asshat still has that magic touch.
The sharp barbs from President Bush were widely seen in Iran as damaging to pro-reform groups because the comments appeared to have boosted turnout among hard-liners in Friday’s election — with the result being that an ultraconservative is in a two-way showdown for the presidency.
“I say to Bush: ‘Thank you,’ ” quipped Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi. “He motivated people to vote in retaliation.”
Bush’s comments — blasting the ruling clerics for blocking “basic requirements of democracy” — became a lively sideshow in Iran’s closest election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. And they highlighted again the United States’ often crossed-wire efforts to isolate Iran.
Iranian authorities claim Bush energized undecided voters to go to the polls and undercut a boycott drive led by liberal dissidents opposed to the Islamic system.
The unexpectedly strong turnout — nearly 63 percent — produced a true surprise in the No. 2 finish of hard-line Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He will face the top finisher, moderate statesman Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, in a Friday runoff.
Rafsanjani, Iran’s president in 1989-1997, has said he is open to greater dialogue with the United States.
But Ahmadinejad offered no such opening after the vote was tallied Saturday, and he could take a harsher stance toward the United States and its concerns — especially accusations that Iran is secretly seeking nuclear arms. Iran denies the charges and puts them down to U.S. anger with the clerical regime.
“You only have to look at the comments” by Bush to understand that he “seeks hostility” against Iran, Ahmadinejad said.
The conservative hard-line Iranian newspaper Kayhan wrote: “People crushed the U.S. comments and wishes under their feet.”
But even many opponents of the Islamic establishment objected to Bush’s tone and timing.
The president’s words sounded too much like the prewar rhetoric against Saddam, and many on-the-fence voters were shocked into action, said Abdollah Momeni, a political-affairs expert at Tehran University.
“People faced a dilemma,” Momeni said. “In people’s minds it became a choice between voting or giving Bush an excuse to attack.”
Another political commentator, Davoud Hermidas Bavand, believed the fallout from Bush’s statements went beyond the election by destroying lingering hopes that Washington, D.C., policy-makers finally would accept Iran’s regime.
No wonder he thinks John Bolton would make a fabulous diplomat.