Ahmadinejad and Bush: More similar than different? [Archives:2006/989/Community]

October 12 2006

By: Steven Coulthart
Syracuse, New York – The speeches and interviews occurring this week at the United Nations general assembly have drawn global attention to the halls of the UN. But truly at the centre of the controversy are two men, Iranian President Ahmadinejad and U.S. President Bush. Both are highly controversial in their home countries and abroad, and would at first glance seem to be polar opposites. Yet, some common threads seem to link the two men – both in terms of their rise to power and their views on religion and the state.

Both men are leaders with shadowy pasts and a strong spiritual bent. To understand both Ahmadinejad's and Bush's similarities, it is vital to analyse their rise to power. Both were outsiders on their respective national stages, and used this status to gain entrance into politics. As the former governor of Texas, Bush was a presidential underdog at first in the 2000 US election. Critics argued that his lack of foreign policy experience and relative obscurity to the American public were major handicaps to his campaign. However, the election's result showed that Bush's reputation as an outsider enabled him to persuade socially conservative voters that he would restore morality to the scandal-ridden Presidency and would be able, because he was an outsider, to end Washington's political gridlock.

Similarly, Ahmadinejad emerged in Iranian politics as an outsider coming from a lesser post as mayor of Tehran. In a strikingly similar tactic as Bush, Ahmadinejad used his outsider's position to provide an alternative to frustrated voters. Election results from the US in 2004 revealed a country divided to the core and put the political divisions between rural and urban areas into focus. The Bush campaign was effective in appealing to red (rural) state voters who emphasised “moral values” deemed higher than their blue state counterparts' when picking a candidate. Interestingly, Ahmadinejad appealed to a similar rural population of Iran just as Bush had to rural America through a mix of social conservatism and promises to improve the lot of Iran's underclass.

In both the US's 2004 and Iran's 2005 elections, religion's role in politics was greatly increased. Both Bush and Ahmadinejad were able to tap into feelings of marginalisation among conservative religious groups that were frustrated by liberal political forces in their countries. Even more interestingly, the percentages of both countries' populations who would classify themselves as religiously conservative are roughly the same. According to estimates by Hadi Semati of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, approximately 35% of Iranians support religious conservative candidates. According to a 1993 Gallop poll of Americans, 33% of Americans agreed with the statement, “The Bible is the actual word of God and it is to be taken literally