April 24, 2005
How to save Iran
By Dennis Roddy
The Bush administration has a chance to escape its "you-break-it, you-bought-it" mold of foreign policy, now two years and 1,565 American lives old. But first they'll have to drive all the way from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to the Sheraton Inn at Tysons Corner, Va.
On May 1, a coalition of Iranian exiles gathers to chart out ways their nation can be made free before a president who has too often put glory before honor tries to bomb the place into democracy.
"Overt military action is something we definitely don't want," says Iman Foroutan, leader of Iran of Tomorrow, an American-based exile group with reach into the streets of Tehran, a city that, reputation notwithstanding, fairly brims with people who would like nothing more than to hang a few mullahs from the lampposts. They would likely have to clear space. The theocratic madmen who currently pass for government in that woebegone place have a reputation for killing anything that smells of freedom.
They proved as much two years ago when police yanked Zahra Kazemi, a 55-year-old Iranian-born Canadian photojournalist, off the streets outside Evin Prison, where she was spotted snapping pictures of women protesting. Kazemi quickly died in that prison. The Iranian government has refused requests to return her body to her family in Montreal. One reason might be that an exile doctor who claims to have examined Kazemi's body when it was brought to his hospital from the prison said it showed signs of beating, torture and rape.
If there were any doubt that this is a government that needs overthrowing, the fate of Zahra Kazemi is all the proof the world needs.
But, to borrow an observation from the late S.I. Hayakawa, when tempted to fight fire with fire, it is a good thing to remember that the fire department uses water. War against Iran drops bombs not only on mullahs, but on the people we must rely upon to overthrow them.
"We believe we are very close to being able to support the Iranian people themselves to replace the Iranian regime," says Foroutan. He has a case to make here, and none of it is based on firepower. Foroutan's group has connections throughout Iran, built into small cells of people who agitate for democracy, sometimes take to the streets, and often enough take to the jails, but whose general theory is that the impulse for liberty is its own weapon. His group broadcasts by satellite television and shortwave radio into Iran.
To measure just how deep his group reaches, and how openly defiant his members are of the regime, consider: When I last wrote about Foroutan's group, I received a telephone call of thanks from a woman in Iran. I have no idea how she managed this, but it is pretty clear that in an age of instant information, Internet connections and satellite television, there aren't enough prisons to hold back people determined to rid themselves of monsters.
But military intervention by the United States, which argues that Iran is seeking weapons-grade uranium, would likely create its own chain reaction. Moderates and the unconvinced of Iranian society are likely to react to an attack by the United States much the way American isolationists reacted to Pearl Harbor or, more pointedly, the way a surprising number of Iraqis are currently behaving.
Unlike the assortment of bagmen and chancers the current administration decided to back as the instant government in Iraq, the Iranian opposition has some history of democracy within its ranks, to the point that dissent is welcome even as they try to unify. Both Foroutan's group and the Washington-based Alliance for Democracy, an exile organization with some lobbying heft in the Capitol, have managed to form a coalition with some other splinter groups. They meet May 1 to lay out plans for the future of their nation. Among the speakers will be Reza Pahlavi, the self-styled Shah in exile, and son of the man the Islamic extremists of Ayatollah Khomeni chased out of Tehran in 1979.
As exiled kings go, Reza has been a disappointment. His book about Iran's future is mush. He surrounds himself with sycophants and avoids hard questions. But as a human Liberty Pole he could be very useful.
The coalition has invited him to speak at next month's gathering. He has yet to reply.
"We believe he could be a powerful figure to bring all of the opposition groups together," Foroutan sighs. "But so far he has not taken a strong stand against the mullahs."
Much speculation about Reza centers on whether the U.S. government is counseling him to go slow as the Bush administration fumbles its way toward what could be another disastrous intervention. Simply throwing a few dollars toward the transmission costs of the opposition broadcasts and putting Foroutan and his counterpart in the Alliance for Democracy in the Rose Garden might send a message where it needs to be heard.
Our enemies in Iran already know we hate them. Our friends in Iran need to know we love them. A high-profile visit to the Sheraton in Tysons Corners next Sunday might send that message. If Iran must be occupied, there will be far less pain if it's carried out by Iranians.
Link to the article