Iran's Hard-Liners Just Tried to Muzzle Hassan Rouhani

BEIRUT -- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's battle with hard-liners in his own government broke out into the open Wednesday, with the head of the country's state-run television company temporarily preventing him from giving a live interview in Tehran.

Rouhani was supposed to appear on a television station owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the government-run radio and television company, at roughly 9 p.m. in Tehran. But nearly an hour after the scheduled time, the interview had not begun. This was no technical difficulty: The head of the IRIB, who was appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, personally tried to cancel the interview.

The state news agency IRNA was the first to accuse the IRIB head, Ezzatollah Zarghami, of blocking Rouhani's appearance. It was swiftly followed by Rouhani himself, who took to Twitter -- which at least in theory is banned by the Iranian authorities -- to level a similar accusation:

Zarghami, however, lost this particular battle with Rouhani. Shortly after the Iranian president publicly criticized the IRIB chief, state television wound up airing the interview. In what he billed as a discussion with the Iranian people, Rouhani defended the interim nuclear deal he signed last years with world powers as a "win-win" agreement, and boasted that Iran's improving standing on the international stage was resulting in increased business opportunities for Iranian firms. 

Zarghami appears to be precisely the sort of hard-liner who would oppose Rouhani's attempt to reach a rapprochement with the West. A former general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Zarhami is believed to have close ties to Khamenei and was personally sanctioned by the European Union for human rights abuses. During the 2009 Green Movement protests, he claimed that videos of the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, which sparked outrage among protesters across the country, were not authentic and had in fact been manufactured by CNN and the BBC.

In the interview, Rouhani announced a plan to give all Iranians access to insurance -- and took a page from President Barack Obama's playbook in the process:

(Apparently, he's unconcerned by Obamacare's low public approval ratings.)

Rouhani did not, however, explain why his appearance had been delayed or whether he stood behind his earlier public criticism of Zarghami. Those around the world interested in viewing Iran's political drama, therefore, have been left wondering whether the delay was a one-off event -- or the first shot in a war between factions within the Iranian government.   



North Korea Proves It’s the Internet Troll of Diplomacy

It's an Internet truism -- known as Godwin's Law -- that "given enough time, in any online discussion -- regardless of topic or scope -- someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis." Sometimes this natural law of online commenting literally crosses over into the real world, so it probably shouldn't come as a surprise that North Korea, the Internet troll of international diplomacy, called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe an "Asian Hitler" in an editorial published Tuesday by state news agency KCNA.

The North Korean editorial takes aim at Abe's nationalist posturing, particularly his support for revising Japan's pacifist constitution that restricts its military to self-defense and prevents it from aiding allies unless directly attacked. "Prompted by the wild ambition for reoccupying former colonies and, furthermore, building up a new vast empire in the world, Hitler had incited ultra-chauvinism and revanchism and restored the economy serving only for war in Germany. Over-heated in reinvasion, Hitler annexed neighboring countries one after another and, after all, unleashed the Second World War," the editorial states. "Abe's reckless moves are little different to those of Hitler."

North Korea may have been inspired by Japanese protests against the proposal, which has inspired posters of Abe clad in a Nazi uniform or sporting a toothbrush moustache. Still, there is a distinct irony of North Korea's latest verbal fusillade: Few countries have been quite so successful in building up a Hitlerite architecture of oppression as North Korea, where hundreds of thousands of people are imprisoned in forced labor camps.

Kim Jong Un has also been frequently invoked by other partisans of Godwin's Law -- most recently when Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, said last month that Dennis Rodman's most recent trip to North Korea to play basketball for the dictator was "the equivalent of taking Hitler to lunch."

It all goes to show just how meaningless a comparison to Hitler has become. Or a comparison to Lord Voldemort, for that matter.