Mr. Ahmadinejad, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb

I hope the title of this article scared you. It should. Knowing that one madman has the power to harness a country’s resources to develop a nuclear bomb and then wipe Israel off the map is a very frightening thought indeed. It is very convenient to have a hard-line figure like Mr. Ahmadinejad to rally against as we gear up for war. But before you run to the store for extra duct tape it might be worth your while, our while, to learn a little bit about where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fits into the Iranian Government power structure. I know it is easier to pin the tail on one donkey rather than many and project our collective fear, anger and hate like a laser beam onto it’s ass; but, the facts may give you pause and surprise you.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is no doubt the public face of Iran today. But, how powerful is he? How much control does he exert over Iran’s nuclear ambitions? Over Iran’s military or intelligence services? Not much, actually.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. As such, he is the head of the executive branch. He is also not the commander in chief of the armed forces of Iran. Iran is the only country in the world where the executive branch does not control the armed forces. Iran is a unique flavor of Islamic Theocracy. The highest-ranking official in the Iranian Government is not the President – instead it is the Supreme Leader. According to Iran’s Constitution, the Supreme leader controls the military and the intelligence services, sets domestic and foreign policy, and appoints many officials in the Government. The Supreme Leader alone has the power to declare war. Iran’s nuclear policy is managed by the Supreme National Security Council, which reports directly to the Supreme Leader and is charged with carrying out his policies. The Supreme National Security Council’s members include the President, the speaker of the Parliament, the head of the Judiciary and heads of the armed forces and intelligence services. The President chairs this council and coordinates the Supreme Leader’s policies.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, as the President of Iran, has very limited to non-existent war-making powers. The primary responsibility of Iran’s President is over the country’s economic policies. In most other areas, the President is more of a ceremonial figure rather than one with actual execute authority.

Iran’s Constitution has written into it a complex power structure, and in its unique way contains checks and balances to prevent abuse of power. The Iranian Government is a complex mix of elected officials and appointed officials. The primary elected body is the Assembly of Experts. This body is composed of clerics that are elected by the public. The Assembly of Experts appoints and periodically reconfirms the Supreme Leader. The public also elects the Parliament and the President. Click here for a comprehensive discussion of the structure of the Iranian Government and the relationship between the different bodies of the Government.  The figure below depicts the organizational structure of the Iranian Government. Click on the image below for a larger, clearer image.

Iranian Government

The Iranian Government is not a monolithic structure. There are conservatives and reformists in the Government. There have been ebbs and flows in the past in the balance between conservatives and reformists. There is likely to be similar political shifts in the future. Iran is not a cult of personality, and certainly not one in the figure of Mr. Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ahmadinejad has significant restraints in his power to control foreign policy. We in the United States have a tendency to reduce countries to personalities. We do this at our own peril. If we are to engage in effective management of crises vis-à-vis our adversaries we must first understand them. We do ourselves an injustice and we miss significant opportunities by dealing with a caricature of a foreign country rather than the country itself.

We cannot hope to deal effectively with the challenges that Iran poses without an understanding of the Iranian Government, its politics and its history. We have failed in this once in Iraq. We cannot afford to make the same mistake with Iran. The costs are likely to be much higher.

[Author’s Note: This article is the first in what I hope will be a series of articles aimed at understanding the nature of the challenge we face from Iran.]


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13 Responses to Mr. Ahmadinejad, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb

  1. Zub says:

    Hey Mash bhai,

    Nice blog. It’s great to see a fellow Bengali on dKos at last, and even on TPM! I’ve been in lefty-blogland for more than 3 yrs now, and believe me you are the first deshi in sight. I used to run a lefty-blog-oriented LJ community before the 2004 election:, and often used to wonder if I was the only Bengali nut thus concerned! Apparently not πŸ™‚

    Anyway, my dKos ID is justforkix, although I haven’t really written anything worthwhile there since last year’s September 11. My regular blog is on the LJ – ID is “bollox” – wherein I indulge my various hobbies and habits.. do pop in sometime!

    Oh, and Shubho Noboborsho πŸ™‚

  2. Zub says:

    P.S. Strongly recommend if you’re interested in geopolitics and US domestic politics. Billmon is actually one of the earliest Kos alumni along with Gilliard and Steve Soto. And he has probably the most brilliant style in all of blogdom. Indeed one Kossack called him the “Jimi Hendrix of blogging”. No surprise really, he pretty much swept the 2003 Koufax awards.

  3. BuelahMan says:

    Very well written. I’m just trying to get a grasp of the hierarchy in Iran. This helps.


  4. I wonder if Bush will understand the diagram? He probably reads picture books and this diagram is out of his league.

    Interesting to know that the President of Iran has limited power. Hopefully Iran will not use their nuclear technology to blow up Israel. They should just continue making technological advancements in the country. It’ll give the rest of the muslim world something to look up to (not the bomb part, the technology part).

    Iran could be doing such wonderful things for its people…

    Shoobho Noboborsho!

  5. zennurse says:

    Mash, could the IAEA talk directly with the Supreme Leader? Or a trusted cleric below him? It seems this would help defuse some of the panic since, as you said before (I think it was you) that the President only has 15% approval and the Supreme Leader does not believe nuclear weapons are correct inder Islam. Interested to know what you think.

    thank you

  6. Mash says:


    I suppose IAEA could talk to him. But I think they talk to Supreme National Security Council which oversees the policy set by the Supreme Leader. Ahmadinejad is the head of this council but the policy for this council is set by the Supreme Leader. Ahmadinejad does not have the authority to make policy on behalf of the Council.

    Having said that, make no mistake about it that Ahmadinejad, notwithstanding the rhetoric, speaks for the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on the nuclear policy issue. The Iranians clearly feel that they need a nuclear deterrence. Given US troops to all 4 sides of Iran, I cant say that I find this surprising.

    But, it is quite clear that this is the policy of the Iranian Government and not the work of a madman. So, that leads me to believe that Iran is not bent on self destruction by launching an attack on Israel. Anyone who suggests that this is Iran’s goal simply isnt being honest or otherwise has an agenda.

    Iran isnt a just a bunch of crazy mullahs running around with diagrams of nuclear bombs in their pockets. Its a big country with a sophisticated government system which knows what it wants and has a lot of leverage to get there. The sooner we realize that the sooner we can tailor policy that can confront that possibility.

  7. Bill says:

    What a mess of a post. Never mind Ahmadinejad, he’s only a cog in a sophisticated neo-enlightenment theocratic government structure that is a model of checks and balances and republican ideals….

    ….well guess what, your admiration for the Iranian form of “representative” government just produced a madman. And despite your desire to downplay his significance, he’s the mouthpiece of a radical theocracy that wants to annihilate Israel. And they will attempt to do it if they obtain the means.

    Now crawl back under your covers and hope for the best.

  8. Mash says:


    I think you are reading into my post the words you want to see rather than the words I have written.

    I neither admire the Iranian Government nor do I despise it. But I do hope to understand it. It must be real easy for you to bomb people without knowing if its the smart thing to do.

    But, of course, its always more comforting to sleep with one’s prejudices than to confront them. Good luck and enjoy the smart bombs.

  9. Bengali Fob says:

    LOL! The Bill guy is hilarious! I’m sure the Iranian people say the exact same things about the American system. That system has another madman and he goes by the name of Bush, George W. Bush!

    Anyway, it’s always good to understand things from every different angle. It always you to form your own opinion.

    Of course that doesn’t mean anything. Some, like Bill, could read every single opinin, but still have the same view as before becuase these types of people choose to ignore what others say. They think only their point of view is correct.

    This leads to trouble…

  10. Mash says:

    Listen to the Fob, the Fob knows all πŸ™‚

  11. Bengali Fob says:

    Your too kind, Mash. I’m too young to know all. ANd anyway, you’re saying that cuz you agree with me and I agree with your view, but bIll doesn’t. I’m sure he thinks I’m incredibly stupid.

    Sorry Bill, I’m picking on you a little too much.

    BTW Mash, I want to put a happy face emoticon too!

  12. Patrick EMIN says:

    The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, propose to the international community that the state of israel is moved to Europe, particularly in Germany and Austria, continent and countries where from originates the majority of the inhabitants of israel, rather than the middle east, its current location, where obviously, it never has been integrated with the local populations.
    This proposal stands to reason and contrasts with the insane idea to establish a Jewish state in the middle of Arab populations. One would have liked that it was considered a few tens of years behind, at the time where the situation with the middle East was not as degraded as it is it now and where the plan of occupation of the Palestinian territories (colonization) was less advanced. It would have been possible to organize the return of the Jews in their countries of origin as returned the other deportees of Europe there. One cannot sees indeed why the Arab populations of Palestine must support the Israeli occupation whereas the persons who caused Jewish persecutions are not originating in these regions! It is completely absurd and unjust and the argument of the Iranian president is from this point of view, unstoppable.
    Now, the conclusions he draws from that are debatable, to wish the end of israel is not the solution, as to wish the end of Palestinian by colonizing them is not either. His remarks have the merit to draw the attention on the slow genocide of the Palestinian people. The occident believed it could get rid of the Jewish problem by putting it on the back of arab populations. What a historical error! Even if arabs living after the war were more flexible than those nowadays, it were certainly the worst idea of the century to establish them in an environment which was to them in all points foreign.
    Then, is it possible to put things in order and to put an end to this population transplant against nature? Undoubtedly, one will need a voluntarist policy of the international community which must act confronted to the failure of the state of israel. Counting on the deterioration of the situation does not lead to anything, one does not make people bend when they defend their territory, the Israelis learned it at their expense and American in Iraq too.
    The Israelis are in front of a wall, they created places of concentration for the Palestinian population to control the one they could not deport, and don’t know what to do now. A situation which should be familiar for them but that they seem to discover each day so much the improvisation of their actions is striking, without pun. They cannot from now on live any more without their enemy. The enemy is necessary. He justifies the use of the force, he legitimates the expansion of the colonies, he replaces any discussion. There never was negotiation between israel and Palestine, only confrontation, the invasion of Palestine carried in germ a final tragedy, and it will be tragic.

  13. Lottie says:

    Didn’t know the forum rules allowed such blirliant posts.

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