I know this must come as a shock to the non-appeasement crowd out there, but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is simply not as powerful as our far more powerful Dear Leader likes to pretend. Evidence you ask? How about this story from the New York Times?

In his almost three years as president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been harshly criticized in the West. But he is increasingly drawing fire from Shiite clerics here, who accuse him of using religion to distract attention from his government’s failure to deliver on promises of prosperity and political freedoms. […]

The tensions surround Imam Mahdi, the 12th imam in a direct bloodline from the Prophet Muhammad, who the Shiite faithful believe will one day emerge from 1,000 years in hiding to save mankind and bring justice to the world. Tens of thousands of pilgrims go each year to the Jamkaran mosque near Qum, about 75 miles south of Tehran, where they believe that the imam will appear.

President Ahmadinejad, who came to office in 2005 declaring his intention to “hasten the emergence” of Imam Mahdi, said in a speech broadcast nationally this month that Imam Mahdi supported the day-to-day workings of his government and was helping him in the face of international pressure.

That was too much for senior clerics, who contend that they alone are qualified to speak on the topic.

“Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks are common beliefs in Shiite Islam, but they were never brought up in politics and for political purposes by a noncleric,” said Farid Moddaressi, a religion reporter in Tehran. “Mr. Ahmadinejad’s views come from a religion which is defined by its clerics, but they believe that he is not a religious authority to make such remarks.” […]

Several of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s critics said that by linking his government to Imam Mahdi, he was trying to deflect criticism of his economic policies, which have led to double-digit inflation.

A senior conservative cleric, Ayatollah Muhammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, warned him weeks ago not to talk about Imam Mahdi and said that even the founder of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, did not claim any links with the imam.

Another cleric, Mehdi Karroubi, who ran for president when Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, warned that people could lose their faith in Imam Mahdi.

“People would say that if the current situation is his management before his emergence, what would happen after his emergence?” he said, referring to soaring food prices, the daily newspaper Etemad Melli quoted him as saying.

“We need to talk about realities,” said Mr. Karroubi, who is a former speaker of Parliament. “We should not link everything to religious and hidden issues.”

People forget that the Supreme Ruler of Iran is actually Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not Iran’s President. A Supreme Ruler whose own 2005 fatwa against the production and stockpiling of nuclear weapons is viewed by Iran’s secular leaders as more binding on their government than the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty of which Iran and the US are both signatories. In all likelihood, these mullahs would not be attacking President Ahmadinejad without Ayatollah Khamenei’s express authorization, so clearly he is not entirely supportive of the Ahmadinejad administration, which, much like the conservative Republican Bush administration in America, is taking a lot of heat for their country’s poor economic performance. Indeed, it would be smart domestic politics to distance himself from President Ahmadinejad at this time.

Add to that Iran’s feeble conventional military forces, the fact that Iran’s Supreme Ruler is the commander in chief of Iran’s military (not Ahmadinejad) and Iran’s history (at least since the era of the Persian Empire) of not invading or attacking other nations, and you have to wonder where all this fear of negotiating with Iran really comes from?

Yes, I know. It’s a rhetorical question.

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