Monday, January 21, 2008

The President Ordered To Comply With A New Law

The President has been ordered to comply with a new law providing fuel to people who have been hit hard by this bitter cold winter. OK, the President in this case is Ahmadinejad, not Bush, and the order came from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme leader of Iran, not the Supreme Court of the United States, but this news is instructive for us on several levels.

As reported by the Guardian,

At least 64 people are reported to have died after gas supplies were turned off in sub-zero temperatures. The cuts, belying Iran's status as possessor of the world's second biggest natural gas reserves, have provoked public outrage and threaten to turn a mood of rumbling unhappiness into a winter of discontent for Ahmadinejad.

In response to this crisis, Iran's Parliament passed a law, over Ahmadinejad's objection, that allocated almost a billion dollars to pay for the distribution of heating gas to the suffering people. When Ahmadinejad refused to comply with the law, Iran's Supreme Ruler intervened and ordered that the law be obeyed. In issuing the order Ali Khamenie stated,

All legal legislation that has gone through [the required] procedures stipulated in the constitution is binding for all branches of power.

Imagine the concept. All laws that are duly enacted must be carried out by the Executive Branch, and if they are not a supreme authority will step in and order the executive to carry out his responsibiliy.

There is more than a little irony in this story for us in the United States, having endured for seven years a President who believes that he only needs comply with laws he agrees with. There is further irony in the swiftness and decisiveness of the action overriding the Iranian executive's disobedience to the law compared with the dilatory and obsequious behavior of our Supreme Court.

But there is arguably a more important aspect to this story. It seems that when our intelligence community issued a National Intelligence Estimate finding that Iran had stopped it's nuclear weapons program in 2003, it didn't just chill the war mongers in our country. It had the same effect in Iran.

To the surprise on no one who has been paying attention, Ahmadinejad has been spouting his anti-U.S, rhetoric primarily for domestic consumption. By building up the threat of the United States he has been able to rally the populace behind the nationalistic desire for self defense and keep his domestic critics at bay. But the Parliament, the populace , and Khamenie have grown weary of the President and his tactics.

Reports from inside Iran suggest Khamenei has grown increasingly disenchanted with Ahmadinejad's economic record, which has been marked by surging inflation and dramatic rises in basic food and housing costs.

In the past, Khamenie has cautioned against criticism of the President in the interests of national unity in the face of the threat of a US attack. Well, the NIE changed that. The NIE

appeared to ease the threat of American military strikes against Iran's uranium enrichment activities, which Ahmadinejad had used to silence opponents and clamp down on domestic dissent.

The diminishing external threat appears to have emboldened the president's opponents in the run up to parliamentary elections on March 14. It may also have removed the need for Khamenei to keep his displeasure quiet.

Imagine that. A leader trying to use fear as a tool of governance to keep his people cowed. Only in Iran, I guess.

Seriously, it appears the NIE did much more that just force the Bush Administration to scale back it's war talk and fear mongering in the United States. It also seems to have enabled more moderate elements in Iran to find their voice. And almost coincidentally it helped Iranians desperately in need of heating assistance this winter find some relief. Who would have thought that one little intelligence document could do so much.