Friday, June 26, 2009

Hope and Change in Iran?

Imagine a country ruled by an older group of religious experts. They decide the path for the nation. They decide who can and can’t run in elections. They also decide who wins those elections. Now let’s pretend that during the recent election, the citizens of this country get fed up with this religious council’s domination of their lives. They decide to protest in the streets. These protesters are sometimes beaten or shot by military snipers under the control of the religious council. The religious leaders force all foreign journalists to stay under guard in their hotels. They close off access to the outside world for the protestors by shutting down or restricting access to the internet and cell phones. The protestors, led by students and women, continue to demand their voice be heard in spite of increasing violence. As the protests continue, the religious group gets more violent and they begin snatching protest leaders in the dead of night from schools, homes, and even hospitals where they seek treatment for the wounds inflicted by the state controlled police. In this imaginary world, where would a Democratic President, one who campaigned on “hope” and “change”, one who got his rise into politics as a community organizer side? Surely he would work with the students seeking change in their own government through peaceful means.

President Obama has shown us that the obvious answer isn’t always the one he will pick. In the not so thinly veiled references to Iran above, President Obama has decided to align with the Mullahs and with President Ahmadinejad. In trying to look neutral, in trying to avoid “meddling” in Iran, the President has given a victory to the ruling clerics. A silent American President helps the Mullahs and hurts the students.

However, as of this writing, it is not too late. President Obama can still align himself with the protesters and the side of democracy in Iran. He can send a clear message that the United States will support the democratic process in Iran. And he can make a difference. Instead of inviting Iranian ambassadors to a Fourth of July cookout, call opposition leaders in Iran and check on their safety. Instead of sending mixed messages about the “debate” in Iran, get prepaid phone cards into the hands of students and protesters. Instead of saying we can’t be seen as meddlers in Iran, demand international journalists be given the freedom to cover the news inside of Iran.

President Obama can work to promote democracy in Iran and help U.S. interests at the same time, and without using the military. If the protesters have their way, there could be a very different Iran in a short time. If there is regime change from these protests, it will be regime change brought about by the people of Iran, not the United States. However, the protests can’t continue without support from the outside world. There are people friendly to the U.S. inside of Iran. If we support their efforts towards democracy, they may create a friendlier attitude towards our nation.


pack04 said...

I would perfer that the US helps the people of Iran rather than meddle.
However there is a very fine line between help and meddle.

Brandon said...


I think there a couple of key things to keep in mind here. First and most important is that we simply have no clue what exactly is occurring in Iran right now. Not only do we lack a credible human intelligence network inside Iran, reporters who could have provided us with a pulse of the street are being confined to their hotels.

Secondly, we need to determine if these protests are against the election and the election solely or the rule of the ayatollahs as a whole. There have been protest movements before to change the government, but they collapsed in 1999 and 2005 because a majority of Iranians decided they would rather reform the existing system than completely overhaul it.

Thirdly, some of your ideas have merit to them and some I see flaws in their logic. We have been careful not to be seen as meddling so far, calling opposition leaders and checking on their well-being would do more harm than good I'm afraid. Nothing would crush a burgeoning movement to overthrow Khameini than allegations that the United States is backing his overthrow and nothing could fit the current regime's propaganda needs more than the U.S. calling these leaders. From everything that I have been able to read about Iran over the past couple of years, they are a very nationalistic people, allegations that the U.S. is supporting the reformists could easily cripple any attempt to overthrow the current regime.

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have rightly already withdrawn the 4th of July invitations and the phone cards sound like a promising idea, but I'm not sure that they would work in reality. I'm sure the Interior Ministry has the capacity to shut down the phone system, and I doubt they would hesitate to do so if opposition leaders begin using it to coordinate protests.

Andy D said...

I think both of you have some very valid concerns here. There is a fine line between helping a movement, and provoking a war.

A few things to keep in mind: The State of Iran has been at war with the United States since 1979. We just haven't been fighting back. Prior to September 11th, Iranian backed terrorist had killed more Americans than any other terrorist organization. Having said that, I do not think putting boots on the ground in Iran is a good idea. However Iran will continue to try to attack the U.S. as long as the current group is in charge of the country.

Also remember that even while President Obama said he didn't want the United States to be seen as meddling in Iran, Ahmadinejad was accusing him of just that.

My suggestions are just the tip of what could be a prolonged support effort. I think it would help both the United States and the people of Iran to be seen as supportive of the rights of Iranians to protest problems within their government. Where they take it from there is up to them.