This Friday, Iran will hold its presidential election. Among the frontrunners is the supposedly moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani, during whose term executions have continued at an alarmingly high rate, freedom of speech and association has been restricted ever more harshly, and Tehran has become more aggressive abroad. Elliott Abrams is endorsing one of Rouhani’s opponents, Ibrahim Raisi:
Raisi [is] as hardline an Iranian cleric as one can find. . . . In Iran he is best known for his service on the “Death Commissions” as one of four judges who oversaw the executions of 4,000 to 5,000 political prisoners in 1988. The deputy supreme leader at that time, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, called those executions “the biggest crime in the history of the Islamic Republic.” . . . That was a long time ago, but Raisi has not changed. . . . [So] how could any American possibly want him to win?
It’s simple. Raisi is the true face of the Islamic Republic, while Rouhani is a façade. Rouhani has shown himself powerless to effect any change in the regime’s conduct and his only role is to mislead the West into thinking “moderates” are in charge. We are far better off, as we were when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president, when there are no illusions about Iran’s regime and the men who lead it.
If there is a fair election Rouhani will most likely win, and then we can expect a barrage of newspaper stories about how Iran is moderating, modernizing, and changing—so we must not push it too hard, and should instead help Rouhani improve Iran’s economy. . . . While it would be useful to empower true moderates, tough policies that make hostile regimes . . . pay a high price for repression and aggression are far more likely to help moderates than weak policies that mean the regimes pay no price at all.
If Raisi wins, two things will happen. First, it will be evident—especially to Iranians—that the election was stolen, so the Iranian people will be that much more alienated from their rulers. The day the regime falls will have been brought that much closer. And second, the entire world will have a much clearer view of the nature of that regime today.