USA: Andrew Sullivan: Words, not weapons, will fell the tyrants of Tehran
Times of London 6/22/2003
Its perhaps only natural that the subject of Iran would be so contentious in American politics. It destroyed one presidency Jimmy Carters and it rubbed the gloss off another Ronald Reagans. Since the collapse of the Shah in 1979, the country has exerted a pull on American fears and hopes in the Middle East unlike most others.
In the war against Islamist terrorism, Iran is also the biggest deal there is. Bigger than Iraq, it is far closer to a nuclear capability than Saddam was in recent years. Bigger even than Saudi Arabia, because its government is so viscerally hostile to the West. As the first country to have completely succumbed to the new and lethal ideology of Islamo-fascism, its also the pre-eminent symbol of the status quo America needs and wants to change after September 11.
Were the mullahs who now act as de facto dictators to fall, the psychological, political and criminal impact would be unprecedented.
It would galvanise the transition to democracy in Iraq. It would cut off critical funds to terrorist groups like Hezbollah. And Tehrans wide and deep contacts with Islamist terrorists more generally would be ruptured.
And yet Washington worries. And fidgets. And procrastinates. Several top-level White House meetings on the future of policy towards Iran have been put off.
No policy shift towards explicitly favouring regime change in Tehran has been announced. The White House seems in some kind of suspended animation on the matter. Having denounced Iran as part of an axis of evil, the Bushies seem reluctant to follow through. Part of this is simple caution in the face of a complicated and volatile situation, as opposition protests break out all over Iran but reliable news and credible intelligence are hard to get. Part of it is endemic State Department wariness about diplomatic conflict.
But part too is a result of the conclusion of a certain internal debate. For a while in the late 1990s and early 21st century, foreign policy analysts believed that moderate reformers could actually liberalise Iran from within, in a long, fitful process of democratisation. Very few analysts now buy that notion even those in the Blair government who once held out hope for some kind of outreach to moderates. And you can see why the new consensus emerged: the past few years have seen no real emergence of a genuinely powerful or independent moderate bloc. However well reformers have done in elections, they wield no effective power especially over the military and intelligence sectors.
So what to do? Rumsfeldians argue that military force cannot be ruled out in terms of Irans potential nuclear capability. An Osirak-like raid (when the Israelis destroyed a nuclear power plant outside Baghdad in 1981) on an Iranian nuclear power plant has therefore not been ruled out. And Bushs statement this week that he and other western leaders will simply not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran was a clear statement of his willingness to use all means possible to avoid this.
Again, the logic is impeccable. If you have just waged a war in part to ensure that one hostile dictatorship in the Middle East cannot achieve capacity for weapons of mass destruction (WMD), how can you sit around and watch a more urgent threat take form? But any use of force against Iran would be entirely targeted on WMD capability and only as a very last resort. It is not American policy to promote actual regime change in Iran through military force. As a paid-up member of the neo-con cabal in Washington (we meet in secret every month to plot the American takeover of the entire world) I can assure you that nobody is interested in an invasion.
And nobody wants to add to the military and logistical strain of rescuing the broken country of Iraq next door. So the question essentially comes down to how to achieve regime change without armed invasion.
For the first time in a long while, that now seems possible. The inspiring stories from Iran of students and opposition groups braving hired Afghan thugs to demand freedom and democracy have finally woken up Americans to the possibility of a win-win.
When the time is right we will all join, a female student told the BBC last week. I can smell it in the air. This time is different. I despise Islam and the mullahs even though I am officially a Muslim now. I dont have the right to change my religion in Iran. I despise the regime and so do 90% of Iranians.
All the people who elected Khatami (the democratically elected but powerless leader of the so-called reformers) despise the regime and they thought hed bring change. We fight for a referendum conducted by the United Nations. The masses support the students and are waiting for the right time to make the final impact.
Of course, these protests have been going on for years; and some of them have been unabashedly pro-American. But the impact of nascent democracy next door in Iraq and the continued failure of the mullahs to provide anything approximating accountable government seem to have pushed the opposition to new heights. The fact that the Islamist dictators have had to rely on imported vigilantes to maintain order suggests how fragile their regime might now be.
Some sophisticates argue that America should simply sit back and say nothing; if the opposition is identified as American proxies, US intervention could play into the hands of the mullahs. The trouble with this is that the American government has to say something; and many of the students are looking for American support. President Bushs careful phrases describing the protests as the beginnings of people expressing themselves toward a free Iran and urging the mullahs to treat the dissidents with respect struck a balance between moral support and avoidance of a direct call to rise up, when such a rising might be prematurely put down.
But the clarity of an American presidents support for basic democratic rights is still a critical component for democracy in Iran. Every dissident movement has told us in retrospect that they were grateful for rhetorical support from the West during the dark periods of repression. That is true for those who struggled against tyranny in South Africa and eastern Europe. Besides, if inflammatory rhetoric from Washington always undermined those it wants to support, the Iranian student movement would be dead by now. Bushs much-derided description of Tehran as part of an axis of evil didnt kill off protest. It helped sustain it.
Perhaps the most effective weapon the West can now wield is grass-roots. The impact of Iranian-exile satellite television on the current situation has been profound. By broadcasting the brutality of the clampdown, these new stations helped force the government into something of a climbdown last week. The internet has been a critical tool as well. Denied real access to the media, many Iranians, especially students, are online. Websites connect them to the outside world, to exiles and to one another. The blogosphere is exploding in Iran, helping spread information and providing a virtual model for free speech that the mullahs will never be able to excise.
If western governments can help finance some of this, support it and encourage it, the consequences could be enormous.
posted on 06/23/2003 1:28:22 AM PDT
As a paid-up member of the neo-con cabal in Washington (we meet in secret every month to plot the American takeover of the entire world)
Sssssssh, Andrew, they're not supposed to know!
posted on 06/23/2003 2:34:11 AM PDT
(The EU will break up any day, but the USA is here to stay!)
Good article by Andrew Sullivan. I agree that it's a delicate situation, but I hope that Bush can motivate the State Dept. to be really supportive of the Iranian resistance this time around.
We blew it earlier on the removal of a Latin American dictator (Chavez) by simply not giving strong enough support when the people had already actually succeeded in removing him. The result was that he got back into power, partially, I think, because the Venezuelans didn't get the support they needed from us and nobody seemed to have any plan for what to do after they got rid of their dictator.
The Iranians need to have a plan, and so do we. What happens when the mullahs go? Certainly, we don't want an even worse situation (such as MOK, I think its name is - that radical Marxist/Islamic movement whose supporters are setting fire to themselves in France).
So I hope Bush is prepared not only to give verbal support now, but to encourage putting into place some viable option after the mullahs fall.
posted on 06/23/2003 2:57:26 AM PDT
When the time is right we will all join, a female student told the BBC last week. I can smell it in the air. This time is different. I despise Islam and the mullahs even though I am officially a Muslim now. I dont have the right to change my religion in Iran.
That's a great thing to hear from Iranians. A very profound re-make of that region is indeed under way, and I think I will like the outcome!
... We fight for a referendum conducted by the United Nations. ...
Some sophisticates argue that America should simply sit back and say nothing; if the opposition is identified as American proxies, US intervention could play into the hands of the mullahs.
Behind that rhetoric is the telltale presumption that most of the world is so anti-American that they would rather support an excessively tyrannical regime than side with freedom-fighters who happen to be good friends with those "imperialist cowboys." What sort of a light does this cast on "most of the world" ? Why should we worry so much about "most of the world" if they are like this?
posted on 06/23/2003 3:11:38 AM PDT
(The EU will break up any day, but the USA is here to stay!)
I hope that you are not exhausting youself.:)
Things are heating up.
Armed attack against Basij, morals police base in central Iran TEHRAN (AFP) - A group of armed men carried out two armed attacks on a base of the Basij militia and morals police near the central city of Isfahan, resulting in five people being injured and 21 arrested, the student news agency ISNA reported. The attacks, carried out late last Thursday and Friday, occurred in the town of Dizicheh, situated around 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of Isfahan. Quoting an official from the local prefecture, ISNA said the attackers carried out the first raid on Thursday and managed to steal a weapon. "The next evening, the armed hooligans attacked a Basij base and in the clashes five people were injured on both sides," the official told ISNA. It was not immediately clear who carried out the attack, but the local press had reported particularly violent clashes around Isfahan last week after anti-regime protests spread from the capital to the provinces. The Basij are a hardline volunteer militia that has been used to quell the demonstrations. No further details were immediately available.
posted on 06/23/2003 8:21:28 AM PDT
("Here in France I feel at home." --Madonna. So go already.)
"It destroyed one presidency Jimmy Carters and it rubbed the gloss off another Ronald Reagans"
I realize this is Britain, and that the British press hates America as much as the American press....but Jimmah destroyed his own chances in the Oval Office. HE turned his back on the Shah. HE was unable to rescue the hostages held for 444 days. In addition, HE presided over 20% interest reates and 18% - 20% unemployment. He darned near destroyed this country. If it weren't for the Great Man, Ronald Reagan, there would indeed have been a revolution. We were that close. In addition, Iran-Contra rubbed no one's gloss off. That's ludicrous. If the public were so stupid we couldn't see that Iran-Contra was manufactured, George HW Bush would not have been elected.
The guy is so close to the truth...I can't see how he missed the cigar. Carter has nothing to do with it. The actions of the Iranian people (with the aid of the Western news media) have a LOT to do with it.
We DO wish the Iranians success...but we're still dealing with the remnants of another nasty regime, complete with the Iranian-trained mullahs insisting the Americans are after nothin but their women, while echoing the catchwords of the late '70'2: "Death to America".
Oh, there are lotsa reasons to go in, but none of them are important enough to satisfy international law...yet.
No matter what the news media says, the Iraq situation satisfied international law 50 times over. I'm not sure that even the Iraqi-Americans allied with the coalition understood fully all the reasons we HAD to end Gulf I.
I'm talking about our national interests, which to us must remain primary.
posted on 06/23/2003 11:47:51 AM PDT
(UN Resolutions=Very Expensive, Very SCRATCHY Toilet Paper)
Good article by Sullivan. He's got it right. America SHOULD and WILL continue to back the grass roots effort of the Iranian people to achieve freedom. And continue to warn the mad mullahs not to commit massacres in response to peaceful protests.
These students are freedom fighters. REAL ONES, not Reuterized ones. Any news about trials yet? Are the mullahs making good their threat to execute protestors?
posted on 06/23/2003 11:59:26 AM PDT
(UN Resolutions=Very Expensive, Very SCRATCHY Toilet Paper)
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