The show trials now on display in Tehran have several purposes. First, to purge the regime’s ranks of those who have shown tolerance or enthusiasm for the dissidents who are now calling for “death to the dictator.” Second, to intimidate anyone contemplating action against the regime. Third, to gauge the attitude and resolve of the West, in order to calculate just how far the regime can go without a potentially damaging reaction.
That is why Saturday’s procession of “spies and traitors” included French and British citizens or employees. The reaction must have been encouraging to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, his son, and his band of loyalists: thus far, the Brits and the French have limited themselves to diplomatic tongue clicking, with nary a whisper of serious sanctions, and no sign of active support for the millions of Iranians who pray, and fight, for freedom.
As the distinguished scholar and analyst Afshin Ellian tells us nearby, the regime has already prepared arrest warrants for the leaders of the national uprising, and an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards has been charged with carrying out the arrests. Such a move is fraught with peril for the regime. The arrest of the dissident leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, would surely throw the country into convulsion, and, if it lasted long enough, might convince some Western leaders to finally defend its own ideals, and thus the Iranian people.
There is no doubt, as Professor Ellian stresses, that Khamenei’s people desperately want to crush the opposition. Those nightly chants and daily protests take a toll on the oppressors, and, as we have seen, even organizations such as the Revolutionary Guards will refuse to attack unarmed civilians, and occasionally intervene to protect demonstrators from the assaults of the Basij thugs. There has been an erosion of faith in the regime in many quarters, and we can see signs of a violent internal struggle. Two RG planes have gone down in recent weeks, and scores of officers, along with their counterparts from the Lebanese Hizbollah, have been killed. In addition, there have been several near-misses, pointing to sabotage of aircraft. By whom? I don’t know, but they certainly needed–and obtained– some help from the security and maintenance people working for the Guards.
The show trials themselves document internal conflict. If it were not so, the regime would hardly need to purge high-ranking intelligence officials, and the clear implication of the trials is that more victims are in the queue.
Like every regime that lacks popular consensus, the leaders of the Islamic Republic blame their troubles primarily on foreigners. It is the predictable response of those who know that their policies, and perhaps even their legitimacy, would not be sustained by an appeal to the “electorate.” Thus, for example, the Chinese tyrants blame the Uighur uprisings on the machinations of an emigre grandmother, Rebiya Kadeer, who lives in Washington, rather than on the rage of an oppressed people. The mullahs must silence their opponents, but time is not on their side. As with Gorbachev, the mullahs are showing a talent for being cruel enough to inspire anger, but not enough to dominate their critics.
That is why Khamenei has come to the conclusion that Mousavi must be seized, broken, and displayed to his followers. The show trials to date have been a rehearsal for that impending melodrama. And even though the mullahs know that a direct attack on Mousavi and his allies will cause all hell to break out, they fear all other alternatives even more, as the institutions of the Islamic Republic fracture, key individuals defect, and wealth goes out of the country, (as was recently demonstrated by the Turks, who seized more than eighteen billion dollars worth of bank notes and gold en route from Iran to Europe).
What should the West do?
Given thirty years of steadfast fecklessness, reinforced by the relative silence of the Europeans and the plaintive pleas of Obama for warm, cuddly relations between America and the Islamic Republic, it will be very difficult to convince the mullahs that the West will do anything serious if there is major bloodletting in Iran following a strike against Mousavi and the others. Even if the likes of Sarkozy want to do something, they must now do more than would have been necessary if the West had supported the cause of the Iranian people all along. Once again, appeasement only makes the final conflict worse. Inevitably, we approach the moment of choice: will it be Iran with the bomb, or will it be necessary to bomb Iran?
I have long argued that the Iranian people hate this regime, and would rise against it, and that we should be supporting them. Rarely has any analysis been so widely derided or so thoroughly confirmed as this one. Nobody can doubt the desires of the people to rid themselves of their beturbaned tyrants; and I dare say that any debate between the appeasers and those in favor of supporting the Iranian people, would be over in very short order. Those who oppose support are primarily those, like President Obama, who believe America has traditionally played a malignant role in world affairs, and that any hint of American support would cause the Iranian people to turn on a dime and join with Khamenei to fight the Great Satan, even at the cost of their own freedom.
It just doesn’t parse.
Thus, the Obama Administration should do two things: it should publicly warn the mullahs that any action against Mousavi and the others would automatically terminate all American efforts to engage in dialogue, and would lead to harsh measures against the regime. And second, it should announce that it does not recognize Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad as the legitimate president of Iran, call for the release of all political prisoners and encourage a peaceful and political solution to the Iranian crisis, one in which the people will have the final say. Or do you prefer the terrible choice of bombing or waiting to be bombed by them?
Yes, that would surely be the end of the Islamic Republic. But the Islamic Republic has died in the past two months. It is time for the West to bury it.