The repression has failed, even when the regime staged grotesque show trials in an attempt to silence the dissidents. This Stalinist replay only inspired further contempt. Fearing large public gatherings, the regime cancelled important religious celebrations during Ramadan. On September 18, the soundness of their fears was proven beyond their darkest expectations. On “Quds (Jerusalem) Day” — traditionally an occasion for cries of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” — millions of Iranians marched through the streets of more than 30 towns and cities, calling for “Death to the Dictator,” “Death to Gaza,” “Death to Russia,” and “Death to Nasrullah.”
The forces of repression — the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij — could do nothing to stem the demonstrations. They stood by and watched, and local police forces openly fraternized with the opposition. The revolt has spread to Revolutionary Guards commanders, scores of whom have been arrested, and many of the Grand Ayatollahs have pronounced the regime illegitimate. In the past several days, there have been demonstrations at universities in Tehran and Shiraz, but the security forces have again stood by; university authorities have merely called on the students to calm down.
The strategically and morally correct course of action for the United States and its allies is to support the opposition forces, and refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the Ahmadinejad government. We should call for the release of political prisoners, equal rights for women, an end to torture, and a national referendum on the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic.
Rarely has there been such a dramatic convergence of sound strategy and moral virtue. The West’s leaders — as Churchill said of Chamberlain — choose dishonor, hoping to avoid war. But the war is already on; the only issues are its cost and the eventual winner.
– NRO contributing editor Michael Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and author of the forthcoming Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West.