In last night’s speech, President Bush escalated his threats towards Iran.

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria.

These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We’re also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region.

Unfortunately, this comes on the tail of a defeat – not even a month ago – of hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the polls.

With votes still being hand-counted, there’s every indication Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s moderate faction has scored a stunning victory over the extreme right in the crucial election for the 86-member Council of Experts, according to Iranian state TV.

Once again, this election has been a case of the extreme right against the moderate/pragmatists. Or the recluse Yazdi – aka “the crocodile” (in Farsi) – against the eternal insider, relative “friend of the West”, former president (1989-97), opportunist and king of the dodgy deal, Rafsanjani.

It was heavily symbolic that moderate Rafsanjani and another former president, the progressive, sartorially impeccable Mohammad “dialogue of civilizations” Khatami, voted together in the Jamaran mosque, where the late ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, used to deliver his speeches. Iranian reformist papers did not fail to publish the emblematic photo sealing the alliance on their front pages this past Saturday. Rafsanjani’s victory was sweeter because he had lost to Ahmadinejad in the second round of the 2005 presidential elections.

On municipal elections nationwide, the extreme right – clustered on Ahmadinejad-endorsed lists – also fared worse than expected. The results for the crucial Tehran City Council will only be known next week, but certainly there won’t be a sweep by the extreme right – rather a surge by the reformists mixed with Ahmadinejad-faction allies plus a coterie of technocratic conservatives.

Iran’s move the the hard right has been checked, at least temporarily. Perhaps ironically, this echos our own recent elections, where a hard-line right wing authoritarian president lost some downticket races to moderates and progressives. However, things are still very much in flux in Iran.

What is happening now is the moderate/pragmatists reaching a more solid position allied with the reformists – with the extreme right held in check by a supreme leader more supreme than ever. The crocodile may have been rocked. But the Islamic Republic’s fierce internal power play is far from over.

So, instead of rewarding the people of Iran by encouraging continued growth in moderation, Bush fed the hardliners a bunch of red meat by threatening increased military action against Iran. Bush clearly understands the use of the stick, but shows a complete disregard for the use of the carrot. This administrations’ record of complete ineptitude at foreign policy and diplomacy (see: DPRK, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, etc) remains untarnished.

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