Khamenei vs. Ahmadinejad: You should be rooting for the mullahs in Iran

If, as Khomeini claimed, the Islamic Republic is the embodiment of a just and sacred government, Shiites no longer need the clergy as the anchor of their faith. Holiness rests in the state and not the guardians of the state. The idea appeals to the muscular nationalism and Bonapartist ambitions of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which believes that military might, rather than clerical leadership, sustain Iran against domestic and foreign enemies.

Many Iranians dismiss Ahmadinejad’s cultish messianism as no more than boorish superstition and clever political positioning. The clerics see it as a direct threat. Since taking office, Ahmadinejad has charged his cabinet to sign a pledge committing them to serve the Hidden Imam, peppered his speeches with messianic themes, and even claimed that he leads the “Hidden Imam’s government.” It is a folksy but religiously charged proposition…

Yet any victory the clergy could win against this new upstart will only be a Pyrrhic one. Ahmadinejad is a threat to clerical supremacy, but without him, Khomeinism is even more vulnerable to reformist challengers. The alternative would be a right-wing ideological state — nationalist, fundamentalist, populist, and ruled by militarism, something akin to the Japan of the 1930s. And that cannot last. In this contest between Iran’s elite factions, the world should be rooting for the clergy — their victory will bring about the quickest end to the Islamic Republic.