Sunday, June 14, 2009

Juan Cole's gutsy call

Juan Cole yesterday posted a theory that Iran's Supreme Leader, motivated by a long-held personal animosity towards Mousavi, reacted to early reports of a Mousavi victory by setting in motion a clumsy fraud that reported purely or mostly fabricated vote totals so that Ahmadinejad would be reported to win in a landslide.

There was no serious evidence supporting this at the time. There was the straight line voter tallies throughout the day, in which Ahmadinejad's percentage of the vote remained approximately constant as more votes came in. But large proportions of the vote, unless they necessarily had very large biases (for example reporting one ethnic group at a time) would be expected to exhibit that characteristic.

The rest of Cole's evidence is of the form "I expected Ahmadinejad to do poorly with this group and he did well". I'm not sure this type of evidence even needs to be refuted.

There was a lot of uncertainty yesterday. Charges were being made, it was a result that many people didn't expect. Juan Cole's scenario was implausible, but under the circumstances I agree with the sentiment of making the best claim you can given the information you have, and refining or correcting it as more information comes in. His gut response was that this is a fraud, saying that and giving his reasoning was the right thing to do.

Today, Juan Cole returns reaffirming his theory from yesterday and refuting reports from Iran that Ahmadinejad actually does have popular support, largely in quarters of the society that is in less direct communication with western reporters and bloggers. No new evidence has emerged regarding the fraud that Cole claims was committed.

It seems that Cole has chosen his position and intends to stick to it. My expectation is that time will continue to pass without evidence, and while it is impossible to prove a negative, the absence of any indication that vote tallies were changed, when there would be plenty of it if Cole's fraud scenario had been true, will erode Cole's credibility if in the absence of evidence he continues to advocate for the position that the election was stolen.

There are other factions in US politics that will applaud him for taking this stance, and for holding onto this stance regardless of what comes.

Cole is making a call consistent with his own personal dislike of Ahmadinejad and of Iran's system of government. He has been clear about this dislike even when he was among the earliest to point out that the claim that Ahmadinejad called for genocide against Israelis was a deliberately unfair distortion of what he said.

This call may go some way in undoing the damage caused to his reputation in anti-Iranian circles by the role Cole played in thwarting an earlier campaign to demonize Ahmadinejad and Iran. Among people who do not share Cole's visceral dislike of Ahmadinejad, this call is likely to appear more and more like a mistake.

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