Western pundits mourn the loss of the "moderate" Rafsanjani. Sohrab Ahmari sets the record straight:
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was the original Mr. Moderation. Western observers saw the former Iranian president as a sort of Deng Xiaoping in clerical robes: a founder of the Islamic Republic who was destined to transform the country into a normal state. Rafsanjani, they thought, was too corrupt to be an ideologue.
Yet Rafsanjani, who died Sunday at 82, consistently defied such hopes. His life and legacy remind us that fanaticism and venality aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s a lesson in the persistence of Western fantasies about the Iranian regime....
The totalitarian theocracy that replaced the Peacock Throne after the 1979 revolution was as much Rafsanjani’s creation as Khomeini’s. Khomeini provided the theological underpinnings for his model of absolute clerical rule. But it was Rafsanjani who fleshed out the ideas, as speaker of Parliament in the 1980s and president for much of the ’90s.
Rafsanjani delivered the wake-up call to Iranian liberals and leftists, who still dreamt of sharing power with the Islamists. “Until we had our people in place,” he told one such liberal in 1981, “we were ready to tolerate [other] gentlemen on the stage.” But now the regime would brook no faction but those that followed the “Line of the Imam”—Khomeini. A decade of purges, prison rapes and executions followed.
Khomeini’s death in 1989 occasioned Rafsanjani’s worst political misstep. Thinking he could puppeteer events behind the scenes, Rafsanjani successfully promoted his archrival, Ali Khamenei, as the next supreme leader. But Mr. Khamenei, far more assertive than Rafsanjani had imagined, soon consolidated power.
The regime’s Western apologists framed that rivalry as a genuine ideological conflict between the “hard-line” Mr. Khamenei and the “pragmatic,” “moderate” Rafsanjani (along with others, such as current President Hassan Rouhani). President Obama’s nuclear deal was premised on the same fantasy: Rafsanjani had accumulated vast, ill-gotten wealth—here’s someone with whom we can do business.
Yet Rafsanjani never failed to follow the “Line of the Imam,” not least in foreign affairs. Khomeini turned terror into a plank of Iranian statecraft, and so it remained....
Still the illusions die hard. Minutes after Rafsanjani’s death was announced, the New York Times’s Tehran correspondent tweeted that it “is a major blow to moderates and reformists in Iran.”
Not forgetting, of course, the BBC:
In recent years, our correspondent says, he has been a central figure in the reform movement that has been trying to have a moderating influence on Iran and Ayatollah Khamenei.