Following-up on Ilan's post, it seems to me that McCain has a real problem on his hands. This passage from a 2003 CQ piece suggests that when moderates held elective power in Iran, McCain himself acknowledged that the theocratic leaders (ie the Ayatollah and the Council of Guardians) wielded ultimate political power in Iran:
But others saw the effort as futile. "People go in there and meet the moderate foreign minister and the moderates around him, and they fool themselves into thinking the regime will change," said John McCain, R-Ariz., a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The religious mullahs will never let them."
So, for McCain, when the moderates held elective office, the religious clerics were the final arbiters of Iranian politics and policy. But now that a more hard-line president has control in Iran, he is characterized as the true leader and the religious clerics are marginalized. [...]
[...] Even in January of this year, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rather publicly overruled President Ahmadinejad in a way that directly contradicts McCain's recent assertions:
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority in Iran, ordered Ahmadinejad to implement a law that would supply natural gas used to heat remote villages. The issue has become critical during an unusually harsh winter in Iran, and illustrates Ahmadinejad's weakness on domestic policy despite the high profile the anti-American populist has acquired abroad.
It certainly is disconcerting, as Ilan stated, to have in McCain a presidential candidate who doesn't understand the basic nature of Iran's political system. It certainly undercuts any credibility he has on the issue, and for all his recent posturing on Iran, it demonstrates a world view in disarray, whether on purpose or not. But whatever the root of the confusion may be, it does, in the end, perpetuate the conservative tactic of muddying reality in order to beat the politically expedient drum of fear.
I have nothing to add to that.