I am a friend and a fan of Eli Lake. If we had more like him, American journalism would be a lot better, and Bloomberg does us all a big favor by publishing him so prominently. I try to follow him closely, I often learn a lot from him, and I’m not in the least worried that he will ever distort a story in order to advance a political objective, which afflicts so much of contemporary reportage. That’s not Eli. He’s trying to get it right.
So I worry when I disagree with him, even mildly, as I do on his suggestion that we should neither nix nor fix the Iran Deal, but just leave it alone. He bases the stratagem on the correct perception that the Iranian regime is facing multiple crises, from the crashing national currency to the massive protests all over the country. He interviewed some experts, including Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who think the regime is on its last legs, and warns that if we either fix or nix The Deal, we risk giving the failing regime a chance to survive by blaming us for the end of the agreement.
Far better, he says, to let it drag on:
“For years Iran pursued a diplomatic strategy to entangle the West in negotiations while it built up its nuclear capability. Now Trump, Macron and Merkel have an opportunity to return the favor by dragging out diplomacy while the regime wobbles. Let’s use negotiations over the nuclear deal to maintain the uncertainty that discourages foreign investment in Iran. Every week of inaction, every week of back-and-forth among Western allies, buys more time for the next Iranian revolution.”
I agree that the regime is in a jam, and Eli is entirely right to talk about “revolution.” But I’m not at all sure that time is on the revolutionaries’ side. Mass protests are common in our world, ranging from Venezuela to Russia, but successful revolutions are hard to find. Revolutions need support, as we learned in the case of the Soviet Empire. We helped Soviet dissidents with accurate news broadcasts, and with technology, notably fax machines, that helped them maintain contact with each other and outwit the Soviet censors. There is no good reason to fail to do the same for the Iranians.
But he is opposed to such active support for the Iranian revolution:
Europe and the U.S. cannot take over the insurrection in Iran, nor should they. But the great Western powers can at least open a channel for future support.
“The majority of Iranians want change,” Nader told me. “They no longer believe in the game of moderates versus hardliners. Right now is the perfect time for the U.S. government to establish an official connection with the Democratic opposition.”
I have long argued — for decades, in fact — that we should establish contact with Iranian dissidents. Doing it now is late, but a welcome move, and Eli is right to embrace it. But those channels need to go to opposition leaders in Iran, not to dubious émigrés over here.
We learned during the Cold War that the Kremlin had recruited many apparent dissidents in the West, and working with them actually put the opposition at risk. The Iranians know all about that, which is why we need to work with the opposition in Isfahan and Tehran, not New York and Washington.
I don’t think Eli worries enough about such matters:
“Ebadi would be a good place to start. But there are plenty of other Iranians living outside the country who could help establish a way for the West to coordinate policies of solidarity with the Iranian people who seek to unseat the clerics.”
Ebadi strikes me as a singularly bad place to start. When she fled Iran, she went to New York and, instead of joining with the regime’s better-known critics, closed ranks with NIAC, which is infamously the Iranian regime’s main apologist and lobbyist. True Iranian dissidents would not welcome her.
Eli’s main proposal — that we ignore The Deal and instead pay attention to the revolution underway — is excellent, and I hope it receives the support it and he so richly deserve. He’s a real treasure, and we need him at the center of this terribly important debate.