Photo: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discusses the protests in Iran with Iranian-American writer Roya Hakakian, Iranian-American activist Sherry Hakimi, and British-Iranian actress and activist Nazanin Boniadi at the State Department in Washington on October 14, 2022.
Published in the February 6, 2023 issue of The Jerusalem Report.
It would be a shame to miss the present opportunity to support the Iranian protesters fighting for their lives. For close to half a year, the Iranian people, first led by their women and then young adults, have called not only for better economic conditions, as they have in the past, but for wholesale regime change.
The division of the US Congress entering the presidential electoral cycle will only exacerbate the polarized debates over foreign policy and lighting-rod domestic issues. From Ukraine to China and affirmative action to abortion, America remains deeply divided, with opposing voices talking past one another, hearing but not listening. Not a good look for a superpower during a pivotal time in international affairs.
The Iranian people know that 44 years after the Iranian Revolution brought the Ayatollah to power, the DNA of the regime and their IRGC accomplices, who control Iran’s economy, is not changing. They are Islamist Shi’ite true believers whose vision is to rule over their more numerous Sunni brethren and anyone else who does not consent to their hegemonic ambitions and brutally enforce their way of life at home.
Their goals boast the Jewish state’s destruction and the Great Satan’s humiliation. They also envision putting their version of Twelve Shi’ite Islamism in charge of the holiest sites in Islam in Mecca and Medina. That is why the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is so worried by the shunning of its leaders by the Biden administration, focusing on their poor, albeit improving, record of human rights since the Khashoggi murder.
Will we cause the Mullah’s regime to love us less if we advocate the demise of their regime? Well, could they become any more anti-American than they are already? We should wish the current government, which has been, according to our State Department, the world’s leading state-sponsor of terror to their people and neighbors, to collapse and allow the people to choose their destiny.
According to a Kennedy School of Government study, most regime change occurs without violent civil war but requires the active participation of 3.5% of the population. Our goal should be to give whatever support we need for the Iranian people to reach that threshold. An NPR interview with young Iranians who fear for their lives illustrates what is going on in Iran away from Western eyes.
One interviewee said, “On the news, I see my brothers and sisters are taken away, killed, and raped. I’ve seen boys and girls arrested in the most brutal way. Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do because they were the ones with the weapons.”
A 21-year-old student recounted, “They handcuffed me from the back, using plastic ties. It was so tight that I still sometimes feel a pain in my wrists. They pulled my T-shirt over my head so I couldn’t see anything. They beat me up with a baton and a metal stick on my legs and the sides of my body. They slapped me on the face.”
In a suburb of Tehran, a 63-year-old retired high school principal said, “We Iranians are protesting for this regime to go.”
According to CNN, 227 of Iran’s 290 members of parliament called for the protesters to be taught a “good lesson.” You don’t run for high office in Iran without being pre-approved and wholly aligned with the IRGC and the Supreme Leader.
Americans should be shocked by the beatings, shootings, torture, rapes, and executions as the tools of intimidation used by the Supreme Leader and his minions against their people. These hideous actions are not new but have been going on since 1979. The Obama administration’s outreach to Iran beginning in 2009, treating them as a normal nation, should be seen in retrospect as a mistaken and dangerous path, in part because of the regime’s repressive actions during the protests of 2009, 2019, and 2022.
The brutal suppression of their people and sending destruction to anyone else in their path, any way they can, is their normal.
As leading Iranian activist Nazanin Boniadi told the United Nations Security Council in December, Iran’s actions are crimes against humanity. It is a misogynistic society where Iran ranks 140 out of 144 nations in gender inequality, and it is women who are risking their lives leading the protests.
Even Obama had to admit recently that his lack of support of the Iranian people in 2009, when they protested in the streets by the millions, was a mistake. It’s refreshing to have an American leader own up to having been wrong. Too bad his disciples from his administration, who now are in high positions in the Biden administration – Robert Malley, Wendy Sherman, Antony Blinken, and John Kerry – still refuse to recognize the obvious mistake of what was conceded in the Iran nuclear deal.
The protests today differ from those of the past; they say they want a new Iranian government and society. The West misunderstands Iran as a purely Persian nation. However, Iran has a diverse, polyglot populace where only 55% of the people are Persian. The protester whose death ignited the call for a revolution was Kurdish. Add to that Baloch, Arabs, Azeris, and a host of other people’s protesting throughout Iran, and you realize that being Iranian is a complex nationality.
The protests began with the killing of a young Iranian woman by the morality police for not wearing her hijab correctly. This was just the match that lit a bonfire that had been building for decades. As one Iranian protester told Vox News, “A revolution is what we care [about] — hijab was the start of it, and we don’t want anything less than death for the dictator and regime change.”
The Iranian activists I work with, who are helping the protesters in Iran, have made it clear that they are not looking for the casualties of a violent struggle. They want a popular movement of the Iranian people to bring down Islamist Iran and build a foundation for an Iranian-style democratic republic. How can Americans not be in support?
To the isolationists in the Republican Party and the progressives in the Democratic Party, be reminded that America prospers economically and morally when we remain engaged internationally. Isolationism led to World War II, and progressive miscalculation created the monstrosity of the JCPOA, whose rejoining would lead to the abandonment of the Iranian people and a trillion dollars of cash to sustain the Iranian regime for decades to come.
That is not realpolitik; that is diplomatic malpractice that will haunt future American administrations for generations and pose an existential threat to our ally, Israel. It will tell our partners, not only in the Middle East but worldwide, that America is unreliable and a fading power.
So will there be regime change?
A leaked IRGC document reported that they had lost control of the universities. Even before the protests began, a different leaked document said that Iranian society was in a state of explosion, with social discontent rising by 300% in the past year and a shaken public trust in President Raisi.
Still, it is not likely, as long as Iran has an economic lifeline from Russia and China to support their resistance economy. But America could undermine this financial support by putting significant secondary sanctions, especially on China, for supporting this brutal Iranian regime. Unfortunately, the current administration has yet to enforce all of the existing sanctions on Iran fully; and expecting them to urge Congress to pass new sanctions and then fully enforce them is unlikely.
It is unacknowledged that during the Obama administration, they did not fully enforce the sanctions, which were written in large part by the office of Senator Mark Kirk. Not fully implementing sanctions reduced the leverage for a better nuclear deal that should have required a genuine end of their nuclear weapons program instead of sunset provisions merely promising a delay, with denial of access for inspections during that supposed delay of their quest for nuclear-armed weapons.
We obviously should never have agreed to such a dangerous regime having an acknowledged right to enrich uranium. If Iran needed nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, they could have done what other nations do – have low-grade uranium shipped in and have all the spent uranium sent back to the US, France or Russia. Then again, why does a nation with its fossil fuel resources need peaceful nuclear energy?
It is time for America to treat the threat of Iran as a first-tier problem, which means we need a different regime in Tehran in the long run. We need to support the protesters uncompromisingly, not return to the JCPOA unless it significantly changes, and send the message to our allies that we are reliable friends and committed to acting, with prudence and deliberation, for a better, more peaceful world.