THE BLOG
10/16/2007 01:30 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Pretty and Dumb

When the media recently reported that Mitt Romney spent $300 on "a mobile beauty team for hair, makeup and men's grooming and spa services" before a presidential debate, his level of fiscal conservatism became clear. But on a non-stop mission to embody every trait of the pretty-and-dumb personality, Romney recently demonstrated his profound ignorance about Iran.

Shortly before President Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia University, Mitt Romney ran the following radio ad:

The announcer refers to Ahmadinejad as just "another Iranian president." This demonstrates Romney's lack of understanding of the most significant difference between Khatami and Ahmadinejad and the major political shift that occurred within Iran in 2005.

Khatami has been one of the major forces of moderation in Iranian politics. His political career began when he opposed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi throughout the 1960s and '70s. After the revolution overthrew the shah from power in 1979, Khatami was elected to the national assembly, taking the position of Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance in 1982. He stayed in that position from 1982 until 1992 during which time he became widely considered as a moderate, easing restrictions on publications, films, art, and music. Consequently he was forced to resign after higher clergy leaders and Supreme Leader Khamenei charged him with permissiveness.

In 1996, he ran for president on a platform that pledged to minimize the government's restrictions on people's liberties and personal freedoms. He was overwhelmingly elected President in 1997, having captured the support of the majority of political moderates, intellectuals, women and students. Following his election, he appointed liberal individuals for his cabinet and took significant risk when he called for the advancement of women and political democratization. He also advocated improved relations with the West and the United States, calling for the start of a "dialogue among civilizations." Romney's claim that Khatami supported terrorism against Israel or any other country is dangerously and utterly false. In an interview with CNN's Christian Amanpour on January 7, 1998, Khatami was asked, "Regardless of the motive, do you believe that killing innocent women and children is terrorism, as for instance what happens on the streets of Israel?" He answered, "It is definitely so. Any form of killing of innocent men and women who are not involved in confrontations is terrorism; it must be condemned, and we, in our term, condemn every form of it in the world."

Hard-line conservatives and the clergy in the military and judiciary opposed many of his proposals for reform, causing his first administration to prove rather ineffective, especially in producing economic improvements. Despite that ineffectiveness, he was reelected with more than three-fourths of the vote in 2001. Khatami's victory proved to be a severe blow to the Islamic conservatives whose attempts to impose a strict social code and economic liberalism produced rage on the part of the electorate in general. Most importantly, this blogger's five-week research in Tehran on the eve of Ahmadinejad's election in 2005 proved that Khatami had irreversibly opened up the Iranian society. It was the environment that Khatami had created that allowed hundreds of people to gather in Mohseni Square in Tehran on September 11, 2001, to hold candles in solidarity with the American people of United States. President Khatami was one of the first world leaders to issue the following message of sympathy to the American people: "On behalf of the Iranian people ... I denounce the terrorist measures, which led to the killing of defenseless people, and I express my deep sorrow and sympathy with the American people."

It was a significant moment in the course of Iranian pro-western democracy movement until Iran faced its own 9/11 and shift to the right on January 29, 2002, when President Bush responded to Iran's expression of sympathy with the following words: "States like [Iran] and their terrorist allies, contribute to an axis of evil..."

Bush's response to Khatami's courageous gesture instantly cut the legs from under the reformers and moderates and created a false sense of patriotism amongst the masses that saved the hard-liners in Iran and led to the right-wing Ahmadinejad's landslide victory on June 24, 2005. Ahmadinejad was a former member of the Revolutionary Guards following the revolution, an executioner in the notorious Evin prison and maintained close ties with the Supreme Leader. In the short time since his election, Ahmadinejad has significantly limited social freedoms and freedom of the press and has consistently been depriving people and especially women of their most basic civil and social liberties. It has now become clear that Ahmadinejad's victory would not have been possible had it not been for Bush's sharp anti-Iranian rhetoric following September 11.

Ahmadinejad is from an entirely different political camp within Iran than the one Khatami is from. To imply that Ahmadinejad is just "another Iranian president" not only misses the significant shift in modern Iranian politics, but it avoids having to address what America's responsibility was in triggering that shift, which negatively contributed to reformists' efforts and led to today's Iran that could have been a much different Iran if the current U.S. administration had pursued a different policy than its current absurd, one-size-fits-all, good v. evil foreign policy. (This blogger does not consider Khatami a fully democratic leader by any means.)

(In the ad, Romney expresses pride in not providing protection for Iran's former president Khatami when he visited Harvard. This is what Khatami said at the end of his speech at Harvard.)