Europe's political elite has been aghast at the Bush administration's policy towards Iran. Compounding his reference in the State of the Union speech to "an unelected few [Iranian leaders who] repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom," President Bush issued a statement in July 2002 applauding pro-democracy forces. A follow-up speech by Zalmay Khalilzad, the National Security Council official responsible for the Middle East, spelled out the Bush optimism about the prospects for profound change in Iran, combined with its criticism of the current government. By contrast, European elites put their hopes in the modest reforms (to strengthen the Islamic Republic) proposed by President Mohammed Khatami and his followers. European policies have concentrated on strengthening the reform faction of the Iranian government in its bitter competition with more hard-line elements, while the Bush policy rejects both and looks instead to the popular desire for a completely changed system.
Generally, European intellectuals can be counted on to be even more hostile to U.S. policy than are European politicians. The irony is that French scholarship on Iran, which has blossomed in recent years, has spelled out well the weaknesses of Khatami and the reform movement much better than have U.S. scholars. Djalali's slim volume, designed as an introduction to Iranian politics for a broad public, makes the intellectual case for Bush administration skepticism about the Khatami reformers better than any book in English. His account is well informed and free of illusions. He makes crystal clear that it is the Islamic Republic, not the United States, which refuses to improve U.S.-Iran relations: the Khatami government has been too cautious to cross the revolutionary hardliners on this matter. He documents how deeply disappointed ordinary Iranians are in the Khatami reformers, who are seen as either ineffective (if their goal is genuine change) or disingenuous (if their goal is to make the system work better by giving the appearance but not the substance of a choice). Would that most U.S. policy analysts following Iran were as accurate and clear-headed.