I’ve been asking Iranian friends, and they offer two theories. The first, which explains everything and therefore nothing, is that it is yet another trick being played on the Iranian people. The regime wants to identify its enemies, and so Mousavi and his wife are out there luring the unsuspecting opponents into the open, the better to crush them with an iron fist.
If so, the Mousavi candidacy would be similar to that of former president Khatami, who enthused “reformers” only to abandon them when he was elected. And in that case, Mousavi could be seen as a trick not only on the Iranians, but on the Americans as well, since his election would surely be interpreted as a sign of moderation in Tehran. It would be taken as a clear sign that the Iranians are ready to deal with the West, thereby buying considerable time for the regime to pretend to negotiate with Obama and his myriad special czars and envoys. Time enough to complete the atomic project.
That’s the first theory.
The second is that Khamenei has become convinced that the internal situation is so explosive that the regime must be modified, and that Iran must also end its pariah status and achieve better relations with the West. Mousavi was in favor of such relations when he was in office. Or, to be more accurate, he and his deputies said they were (the theory was not sufficiently tested to permit a reliable evaluation) in their contacts with the West, specifically with the Reagan Administration (you can read about it in my book, Perilous Statecraft).
If so, the election of Mousavi would demonstrate that Khamenei is now prepared to ease up on the frightful massacre of Iranian dissidents, empower the women, grant greater political expression, and perhaps even to reconsider the crash program to develop atomic bombs.
That’s the second theory.
One of the many things that makes Iran so fascinating is that both theories will be advanced if Mousavi wins the circus, since the evidence will be the same in each case: the election of Mousavi.
If, however, Ahmadinejad is reelected, it would certainly show that Khamenei believes that the current policies are the right ones, that the Iranian people must be kept in their cage, and that jihad against the West will continue on all fronts.
Is it all a trick, yet another deception from a culture that loves to deceive, or is Iran on the verge of fundamental change? Who knows? Only time will tell.