Ahmadinejad: The Secret History of Iran's Radical Leader
by Kasra Naji
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. 287 pp. $24.95
Reviewed by Patrick Clawson
Middle East Quarterly
Naji's engaging account, written shortly after he left his native Iran after years as a journalist there for Western outlets, is chock full of information about Ahmadinejad as a person and the inner workings of the Iranian political system. Many of the most important points are based on interviews with sources he does not identify—not surprisingly, given the serious risks his informants would face from the authorities. But that leaves the reader in the unsatisfying position of being uncertain how much weight to put on these statements: Did the sources really know what they were talking about? After all, it is common for those in politics to exaggerate their access to key policy makers, to state as facts what are actually assumptions, and at times, to deliberately mislead.
Even if one ignores all the passages based on such sources, Naji's account is still useful to anyone curious about how the Islamic Republic works and what motivates its notoriously outspoken president. The author makes clear just how central the Revolutionary Guards Corps and its Basij militia have become in the running of Iran, using their many cadres and agencies to determine the outcome of elections and court cases. They do not play by the rules; they feel entitled to do as they please in pursuit of the higher aim of advancing the revolution. Naji details how deeply ideological the key actors in Iran's hard-line camp, including Ahmadinejad, are. These people are not pursuing personal privilege or wealth: They are out to advance their cause.
Particularly frightening is the deep ignorance about the world that Ahmadinejad and his co-thinkers display repeatedly in Naji's portrayal. The author's account of Ahmadinejad's statements about the Holocaust brings out the full extent of the latter's lack of interest in learning what the facts of a situation are: He has his views, and that is good enough for him, the facts be damned. Ahmadinejad brings that same approach to all issues from economics to culture, from the nuclear program to domestic politics. Often the results are counterproductive for his own objectives as when he picks a fight with German leaders about that country's history (namely, the Holocaust)—a dispute seen as at best a distraction by many Iranian hard-liners. He seems to possess a remarkable capacity not to be bothered by his mistakes and not to learn from his mistakes.
The author illustrates all too clearly how Ahmadinejad's successes have been based on the raw power and fanaticism of his supporters, not on their cleverness. Wily he is not; ruthless he is.
Related Topics: Iran | Patrick Clawson | Summer 2010 MEQ
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