Green Room

Missing the Big Opportunity in Iran

posted at 1:35 am on February 11, 2010 by

When most of you see this the tweets will have already started, about the events of 11 February 2010 in Tehran.  The Western media have been transfixed in the last week by the regime’s promise to deliver a “punch,” presumably a military demonstration of some kind, that will leave the West “stunned”; as well as by its provocative announcement that higher uranium enrichment has begun.  The mainstream media are largely focused on what Obama will do about that (sanctions?), and whether Russia and China will play along.

But the central drama as 11 February dawns in Tehran will actually be the Green Movement protests mounted against the regime’s anniversary celebration of the 1979 revolution.  As Amir Taheri points out in a post at NRO, the regime is so leery of popular unrest that the commander of the Revolutionary Guard has assembled a counterforce of 100,000 in Tehran.  The mullahs are importing rent-a-mob street demonstrators of their own from across the nation, reportedly a frequent procedure; but authorities also apparently plan to cordon the opposing masses off from each other, very possibly out of fear of the regime supporters being “turned” by their reform-minded countrymen.

According to Michael Ledeen, opposition leaders live in hourly expectation of being arrested, an event that they and their supporters anticipate leading to a significant ramp-up of the protests.  Taheri refers to a plan “Tanzih” – Eradication – presented by the Revolutionary Guard commander, which “envisages the arrest of some 3,000 opposition activists, including former president Mohammad Khatami and former prime minister Mir-Hussein Mussavi.”

The numbers involved, the prospective victims, and the deliberate planning are as reminiscent of the Nazis’ “night of the long knives” as any similar political event in the last 70 years.  The prospect of “Tanzih” is horrific.  But of all the developments looked for in the next 24 hours, even that one would not be the most significant.  The most significant would be if the Iranian reform protesters were able to rock the regime on its heels, and seriously jeopardize its stability and hold on power.

An achievement on this scale is not the most likely outcome, but neither is it impossible.  It would require one indispensable development:  popular uprisings erupting across Iran, in too many areas of the country for the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) to deal with.  That level of unrest may well not emerge until after there is a crackdown in Tehran more brutal than anything we have seen to date.  But it’s not infeasible for a protest movement, one with a spokesman, to gain concessions from the theocratic rulers that would usher in genuine transformation of Iran’s current government and rejection of its Islamic revolutionary doctrine.

While we focus on all the maneuvers by both sides – the mullahs’ regime and the international community – to upstage and out-jockey each other, the high card is held by the Iranian people.  The remarkable fact is that regime change from within is the best possible way of addressing the problems presented by revolutionary Iran:  bellicose nuclearization and terror sponsorship.  The terror sponsorship is an artifact of the leadership’s revolutionary Islamism – and it was tellingly repudiated by the reform protesters during the Al Qods Day (“Jerusalem Day”) counterprotests in September 2009.  The threat posed by nuclear development is likewise linked to the theocratic regime’s ideological fixations.  It is far more likely that a follow-on reform government could operate nuclear power plants peacefully than it is that anything short of military attack, and forcible regime-change, can deter the current regime from developing nuclear weapons.

Since the end of the Cold War, we have lost the political understanding that there may be security concerns great enough to justify concrete measures, as opposed to empty rhetoric and hand-wringing.  Should the United States use force to regime-change Iran?  No – not today.  But should we be ready to use all the elements of national power – diplomatic, informational, military, and economic – to support the reformists, and actively hinder the IRGC in trying to suppress them and brutalize the Iranian people?

Such intervention need not be a repeat of the CIA-sponsored coup against the Mossadegh government in 1953.  It could well be carried out without any more hint of the US selecting Iran’s future leaders than attended Reagan’s support to Solidarity in Poland.  Moreover, the idea that the US would be the only nation potentially involved is ludicrous:  the Tehran regime already draws security support from China, and of course its principal patron for arms and nuclear technology is Russia.  Russia and China will both try to exploit to their benefit any attempt by Obama to further isolate Iran.  One or the other would almost certainly be involved, from the shadows, in an all-out regime crackdown on the Iranian population.

The biggest problem with a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities has always been that merely doing that isn’t enough.  A US-level strike could set the program back by years; but the nuclear technology isn’t the problem:  the revolutionary, terror-sponsoring ideology is.  Iran’s people have the will to do the world the great favor of removing that ideology from power.  But they will need help.  As the events of 11 February unfold, the greatest failure of the Obama administration will not be that it is taking its time to implement sanctions that won’t change the mullahs’ minds anyway.  The greatest failure will be the fact that, in the name of the American people, it is standing by and doing nothing to promote the best chance we have of averting a nuclear-armed Iran.

Cross-posted at The Optimistic Conservative.

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There is one gasoline refinery in all of Iran. All it takes is one Iranian patriot to leave one valve open while s/he runs like hell……we may never even know his/her name.

cthulhu on February 11, 2010 at 1:46 AM

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Ed Morrissey on February 11, 2010 at 12:42 PM