Faster, Please!

Understanding Iran, and Why So Many Don't Get It

Those of you who take the time to read Meir Javedanfar’s post on this site may be as surprised as I was to find that the best way to understand Iran and Iranians is by reading official web sites and the “polls” in which they invite their readers to participate. This method leads him to conclude that President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nezhad is not nearly as popular as he once was, a discovery that the Italians call “the discovery of the umbrella,” namely something everybody already knew. You didn’t need to read “Baztab” to realize that the increasing misery of the Iranian people (think gasoline rationing), the relentless terror campaign against anyone who speaks out against the daily unconstitutional violations of human rights (of late, large numbers of workers or women), combined with the ongoing self-indulgence and corruption of the leaders of the regime, have alienated most Iranians. We knew all about the massive popular contempt for the regime years ago, during the presidency of the phony “moderate” Mohammed Khatami.

Mr. Javedanfar would have us believe that Ahmadi-Nezhad was brought to power in an election like any other: candidates run, people vote, the winner wins. Indeed, on his account, Ahmadi-Nezhad was permitted to remain on the ballot because he did well on a public opinion poll a few days earlier. But almost every other candidate in the presidential election publicly announced that the whole thing was a sham. As usual, the electoral results were handed down from on high. The choice of Ahmadi-Nezhad reflected a political decision by the Supreme Leader (there is a good reason for that title), not the people’s voice.

But the real problem with Mr. Javedanfar’s discussion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Iran is his policy recommendations, which can best be described as feckless. Yes, he says, the president is not popular, but


..the West must not think that it has a blank to check to do what it wants in Iran. Every time the words “regime change” are uttered by neocons in Washington the extremists score political loyalty points.

I’m not entirely sure what “political loyalty points” may be. Apparently the point is that if we were to call for regime change in Iran, there would be a popular backlash on behalf of the regime. Really? So if I were to criticize Ahmadi-Nezhad and call for a freely elected government, that would actually strengthen him and his cohorts? Talk about a dim view of the Iranian people! On Mr. Javedanfar’s account, they have to wait to read the neocon blogs before they know if they should support the regime, or protest its evils.

So what are we supposed to do? If calling for regime change is out, should we just wait, and hope for the best? Not at all, according to Mr. Javedanfar. We should go to that tower of strength, the United Nations.

The UN may seem toothless from the perspective of Washington. But it is one of the most useful and powerful organizations for tackling extremists in Iran due to its international composition, and the very fact that Iran itself is a member. Such legitimacy strikes fear in the heart of Ahmadinejad’s government like no other foreign organization can.

Well, for starters it seems likely that the U.S. Marine Corps strikes considerably more fear in the dark heart of the mullahs than does the U.N. (not that I want the Marines marching on Tehran, as readers of this blog are well aware). And for seconds, I would be pleased to be made aware of a recent case in which the U.N. brought freedom to an oppressed country. So far as I can tell, the U.N. honors and appeases tyrants, and leaves oppressed peoples to their doom.

Mr. Javedanfar’s plea that America abandon the Iranian people meshes nicely with a similar piece by Michael Hirsh in Newsweek (enthusiastically reprinted by Baztab, the Iranian web site that conducted the “poll” that Mr. Javedanfar referred to). Mr. Hirsh spent some time in Tehran, and finds the population quiescent (“After years of turmoil, including mass street protests against the regime in the 1990s, the revolution has adapted. Among the public, political apathy now reigns). Thus, on Mr. Hirsh’s account, active political opposition to Islamic rule is all but gone., the women very beautiful and largely free to dress seductively, and the regime quite subtle in its treatment of its citizens.

Like Mr. Javedanfar, Mr. Hirsh suggests that the American Government give up any hope of fostering regime change in Iran.

From the evidence in the streets of Tehran, there is no indication that this is a government or a political system that’s ripe for overturning. In fact most Iranians—government officials and opposition figures alike—tend to poke fun at the Bush democracy program. “If the Americans are willing to spend their budget inside [Iran] for the purpose they are pursuing, they should just give the money to us directly,” Ali Larijani, the chairman of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told NEWSWEEK with a laugh. “They are just distributing it through the wrong channels.”

It’s perhaps a tribute to the canons of modern journalism that a paragraph could claim that “most Iranians” believe something, and then citing a single source–indeed a most unreliable source, since Larijani is one of the most infamous killers in the country, and thus a man with a lot to lose if the regime comes down–as proof of the generalization. It’s rather like interviewing a top KGB officer about the effectiveness of Reagan’s support for democracy in the Soviet Union. And as for the “apathy” of the Iranians, that is at best uninformed, and quite possibly deceptive. To put the best interpretation in it, apparently nobody told Mr. Hirsh about the huge demonstrations–tens of thousands of people, across the entire country–of Iranian teachers. And he seems not to have noticed that at least two people have been stoned to death recently (not very subtle, in my view), or that considerable numbers of political prisoners have been hung, or that the Ahwaz Arabs are being forcibly moved out of their homeland, or that scores of women have been rounded up, lashed, and imprisoned for collecting signatures on a petition that simply restates their rights contained in the national Constitution.

Finally, it is both immoral and strategically self-defeating to walk away from support of the Iranian people against this evil regime. The Islamic Republic has been at war with us for nearly three decades, and is actively killing Americans, Afghans, Iraqis, and Coalition Forces soldiers today. People like Messrs. Hirsh and Javedanfar would have us shrug our shoulders and do nothing, as if it were not our problem, or as if the Iranians did not want to be free.

It’s an pleasant truth that there is no escape for us from the war the Islamic Republic is waging against us. Some fine day we will decide to respond in kind, by challenging the mullahs and supporting their suffering people.