One major question perplexing many Western analysts and observers is whether Hassan Rouhani is truly a “moderate” politically, culturally and in terms of the ruling powers in Tehran. To begin to grasp the answer to that, one must gain context and put the situation in Iran in perspective. A better way of qualifying Rouhani is that in comparison to other prominent Iranian political figures he is indeed moderate, but against any other reasonable standard, he is an extremist and hardliner.
There Are No Moderates in Iranian Politics
The only question regarding an Iranian politician and internal Iran policy is whether or not both adhere to the letter of the dictates put forth by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini. The supreme leader has positioned Iran in a hardline stance on political, social, cultural and religious reform, its Middle Eastern neighbors, the West, including Iranian and American relations, allies in the region and a nuclear Iran.
That has led its leaders to do all they can to thwart any talk of revolution and reform, by force if necessary. It has positioned Iran as a regional bad actor to its neighbors, including supporting some of the worst in Iraq and Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, Syria and in regards towards Israeli policy. Iran’s posturing and actions have poisoned the well, so to speak, with the major players in the West and it has put Iran in the crosshairs of countries that vehemently oppose it getting nuclear weapons.
That Environment Does Not Breed a Moderate Mentality
Whether he admits it or not, it is in that environment that Hassan Rouhani cut his teeth politically. Were he an actual moderate, so extreme are the powers in Tehran, he would not ever have progressed as far as he has. In essence, a hardline environment will never produce a truly moderate influence, without some extraneous influence that reshapes the political environment and worldview of that politician’s peers. That is a technical way of saying that Rouhani’s environment would destroy him were he anything more a moderate version of a hardliner.
Unfortunately, the reality of Iranian politics means Hassan Rouhani will not “upset the apple cart,” domestically or internationally, because he is a product of the apple cart and is fine with it the way it is. The most reform-minded Iranians will likely get is a less harsh version of hardline harshness regarding dissent or political change.