Ahmadinejad and Making of Foreign PolicyMaking

When earlier considering Khatami’s foreign policy, there was the question of how much of Iraq policy resided in president’s office. This query is no less germane for the Ahmadinejad administration. Over the course of his two terms, Ahmadinejad managed to alienate virtually every conservative constituency in the Islamic Republic, from the clergy to the judiciary to the Majlis—most of whom had supported his candidacy over Rafsanjani. But of all the internal battles Ahmadinejad fought, none was more shocking and politically ill-advised than his public feud with the Supreme Leader.

The two quarreled over the status of Ahmadinejad’s top advisor and family relative, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, whom Ahmadinejad hoped would succeed him as president. After his 2009 re-election, Ahmadinejad appointed Mashaei to the post of First Vice President, but the Supreme Leader insisted that Mashaei resign. The Iranian president responded, in turn, by appointing Mashaei to Chief of Staff. He also proceeded to sack a number of pro-Khamenei ministers, further inflaming relations between the two leaders. For its part, the Majlis threatened to impeach him. Things got so bad, that at one point Ahmadinejad essentially went on strike, refusing to participate in his presidential duties for some 11 days. Apparently, the situation was bad enough that Khamenei floated the idea of abolishing the office of president. The discord and enmity persisted to the very end of Ahmadinejad’s term. In one of the more bizarre twists, the Iranian president traveled to the chambers of the Majlis, and with Speaker Larijani present, played an audiotape purportedly showing that the powerful Larijani family was on the take (Rahimi 2012, pp. 30-31).

It is difficult to imagine that Ahmadinejad had much, if any, responsibility for actual policymaking in his last two years. Conversations on the streets of Tehran were more likely about whether the president would be arrested or allowed to finish out his term. But even before the unprecedented and public tug of war between Ahmadinejad and the establishment, it is not unreasonable to think that as the security situation in Iraq deteriorated, particularly from 2006 to 2008, it would be the IRGC and not the office of the president that called the shots.10 Most likely, there were distributed responsibilities. The president’s office would lead or at least be associated with more public activities, such as signing aid and trade agreements or the 2007 talks with the US, while the IRGC was as the center of gravity for most Iraq policymaking.

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