Manipal, India — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has this in common with U.S. President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair: he too speaks directly to God. Admirers consider him to be the pilot heralding the imminent return of the Mahdi, the expected Muslim Messiah.
Less undiscerning observers consider the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran to be a buffoon, without any substantive authority inside his own country -- where the key members of the government report directly to Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Khamenei -- and with a diminishing support base within his own people, caused by the extreme economic mismanagement of the mullahs.
A country that ought to have enjoyed a prosperous standard of living for its 78 million people has huge pools of extreme poverty, caused by a dysfunctional system reminiscent of India during the three decades from 1955-85 of comprehensive central planning. What passes for private industry in Iran is a collection of enterprises run like feudal fiefs by those close to the supreme leader, or regarded by him as potential troublemakers needing to be pampered out of opposition.
Ahmedinejad himself came to power Iran-style, where the counted ballots threw up -- not entirely coincidentally -- the very result favored by Khamenei, who saw the current Iranian president as a poodle who would not stray from total obedience the way Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani did during his term. Unfortunately for the wily supreme leader, Ahmedinejad began to get delusions of divine greatness within a year, even while proving inept in supervising the system in a manner that would give the people of Iran enough crumbs to remain quiescent.