Not so long ago I was in the pundit’s equivalent of the psychiatric ward, as one of a tiny handful of people (generally considered deranged) claiming that the Iranian people hated the mullahcracy, were prepared to rise up against it, were totally worthy of American (indeed broad Western) support, and would win.
All of a sudden, a good-sized gaggle of born-again democratic revolutionaries have entered the bandwagon. In the last couple of weeks, Bob Kagan, Charles Krauthammer, Jim Glassman, Ray Takeyh and Richard Haass have jumped on board. God willing, they will stay and attract others. Welcome, comrades!
So this seems a good time to catch up on bandwagon etiquette. First, explain what got you here; that’s a great way to encourage reluctant “realists” to join our revolutionary ranks. Kagan understands that, and tells us why he changed his mind. After the June 12th election fraud and the huge crowds that filled the streets of every major city in Iran, he notes, only a blind man could fail to see what was going on:
A year ago…there was little sign the Iranian people would ever rise up and demand change, no matter what the United States and other democratic nations did to help them. If the prospects for a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program seemed remote, the prospects for regime change were even more remote. These probabilities have shifted since June 12.
If he had had more space, Bob would undoubtedly have added, by today it should be clear that the mass movement aimed at regime change in Iran is truly that, and extends throughout all levels of Iranian society, most paradoxically to the Shi’ite clerical leaders. Poor Khamenei keeps saying that religious leaders should speak up, by which he means “defend me!” But they won’t; they want him gone, as most Iranians do.
Second, let’s be specific about what “support for the Iranian dissidents” (which is increasingly coterminous with “the Iranian people”) means. Krauthammer is certainly right to say “to fail to do everything in our power to support this popular revolt is unforgivable,” and Haass echoes him: “The United States, European governments, and others should shift their Iran policy toward increasing the prospects for political change. Leaders should speak out for the Iranian people and their rights.” But let’s spell it out a bit more.
Kagan hits some of the main points: “With tougher sanctions, public support from Obama and other Western leaders, and programs to provide information and better communications to reformers, the possibility for change in Iran may never be better.” More concretely, we should help the dissidents get good communications hardware, and our leaders should demand the release of political prisoners, equal rights for women, an end to torture and rape in the prisons, and greater freedom of speech, assembly and press. As Takeyh says, “The Obama administration should take a cue from Ronald Reagan and persistently challenge the legitimacy of the theocratic state and highlight its human rights abuses.”
Haass has several good ideas:
Congressmen and senior administration figures should avoid meeting with the regime. Any and all help for Iran’s opposition should be nonviolent. Iran’s opposition should be supported by Western governments, not led…outsiders should refrain from articulating specific political objectives other than support for democracy and an end to violence and unlawful detention.
Notice the comment on Senator Kerry’s proposed jaunt to Tehran. A bad idea. And he’s right to emphasize that the nature and composition of a free Iranian government is up to the Iranians. They are fighting and dying for it, while we are only supporting them as best we can. So to speak. Thus far, it’s only words, but maybe, with all the added intellectual firepower, it might get real.