David Ignatius of The Washington Post pronounces on the current crisis between the Supreme Leader and President Ahmadinejad, "When there’s political upheaval in Tehran, it’s often interwoven with the explosive question of possible outreach to the United States."
In other words, the dispute is all because "[Ahmadinejad right-hand man] Esfandiar Rahim] Mashaei is said to have initiated a series of contacts attempting to open a dialogue with the United States".
How does Ignatius know this? Because he has unnamed "sources" --- none of whom actually say anything in the article --- and one "well-informed Iran analyst": “[Ahmadinejad] craves recognition from outside, and Mashaei is his instrument.” (There is no evidence in his paragraphs that Ignatius ventured beyond Washington speak with his newspaper's excellent correspondent in Tehran, Thomas Erdbrink.)
Now it is quite likely that Rahim-Mashai has been seeking quiet discussion with American officials --- he cancelled a trip to New York, for unstated reasons, at the last minute in February. And, given that the aide is Ahmadinejad's de facto envoy for foreign affairs, his chat would be part of the President's back-channel approach on the nuclear issue and other matters.
However, this does not mean that the US is the catalyst to "help explain the recent attacks by mullahs on [Rahim-Mashai] and his patron, Ahmadinejad". (Note to Mr Ignatius: you may want to think of Iranian clerics as something more than "mullahs", and it might be useful to realise that the challenges to the President have come from a lot of "non-mullahs", such as the Speaker of Parliament, prominent MPs, leading newspapers, and even the head of the Revolutionary Guards.)
Here are 12 other factors that just may be of relevance:
1. Ahmadinejad's move to control the Ministry of Intelligence, challenging the Supreme Leader. (Ignatius mentions this, but he does not really understand the affair, so he moves on.)
2. The perceived challenge by Ahmadinejad and Rahim-Mashai to clerical authority and institutions. (Ignatius' reduction: "Mashaei is described as a clever operator who, like Ahmadinejad, mistrusts the clerical establishment. The dislike is mutual.")
3. The failed attempt in 2009 to make Rahim-Mashai the First Vice President --- after the Supreme Leader's intervention --- but Ahmadinejad's continued defiance by naming Rahim-Mashai as his Chief of Staff.
4. Ahmadinejad's expansion of power in foreign affairs, dismissing Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and naming a set of envoys from his office, including Rahim-Mashai.
5. Rahim-Mashai's identification with the "Iran-first" model for other countries, as opposed to an "Islam-first" model.
6. The dispute over the significance of a possible return of the Hidden Imam and whether this should shape an approach to Iranian politics and society.
7. Iran's significant economic tensions, interacting with political disputes over the Ahmadinejad budget and subsidy cuts.
8. Serious rivalries within the Iranian conservative/principlist establishment, with the President set against Speaker of Parliament Larijani, Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, Secretary of Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei, and prominent MPs.
9. Lingering tension over the involvement of some in Ahmadinejad's office, notably former Tehran Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi, in post-election abuses.
10. Allegations of corruption amongst Ahmadinejad's circle, notably First Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, and disputes over his Ministerial appointments.
11. Rahim-Mashai's control of a large amount of State funds through his numerous positions, with allegations that he is distributing money to gather support for his Presidential bid in 2013.
12. Rahim-Mashai's push for a set of publications to promote his political ambitions.
If this was just a matter of an under-informed but most prominent Washington commentator pushing his US-centred interpretation of Iran --- because his "sources" are American, his perspective is American, his media world is American --- then this response could be made to let off a bit of steam (or, maybe even better, no response could be made at all) and we could move on.
But I hesitate to say that for one reason: what if Ignatius' "sources" share his shallow conception of Iran, or even helped him put out this shallow conception? What if those "sources" are inside the US Government and have some influence beyond chatter with a Washington Post pundit?