Today, July 9, is the day the Iranian student movement has designated for national demonstrations against the regime, and a general strike in favor of democracy. Shaken by weeks of recent protests, and worried about the mounting criticism from several Western countries, the regime has taken unprecedented steps to head off a potential showdown with its own people:
Thousands of political activists, students, and others, have been rounded up and packed into prisons, subjected to torture, and in some cases murdered.
Children of parliamentarians have been summarily arrested, as have parents of Iranian democracy advocates living abroad.
Great efforts have gone into ensuring that Iranians cannot communicate with one another, either by telephone (cells have been shut down) or radio or television (the U.S.-based independent radio and television stations have been reporting a new jamming campaign against their satellite broadcasts. As of late on the night of the 8th, it was impossible to isolate the source of the jamming). Satellite dishes have been torn down, and smashed in the streets.
Ditto for the press. Journalists have been arrested, newspapers have been closed. In short, everything the regime could do to isolate the Iranian people from the outside world has been done.
New security forces have been recruited. Lacking confidence in the willingness of Iranians to beat and kill their own, the regime has brought in Lebanese Hezbollahi, members of the Badr Brigades from Iraq (where they’d been dispatched as part of the “insurgency” against American forces), the usual “Afghan Arabs,” and, reportedly, Palestinian toughs. All reminiscent of the Chinese tactics in Tiananmen Square, where they imported soldiers from remote regions to suppress the pro-democracy uprising.
For those who believe that revolution is a test of will, and that a regime willing to use any amount of terror required to retain power will probably survive, these are at once ominous and encouraging signs. Ominous, because this regime does not appear ready to go quietly; encouraging, because the mullahs are not facing a handful of revolutionaries, but a mass movement.
I have long argued that the United States could provide the decisive support that would guarantee success of the democratic revolution. All Iranians, from the top ayatollahs to the student organizers, believe that America is capable of guaranteeing the outcome of the conflict, and they are all trying to decipher the American strategy. Whenever President Bush speaks warmly of the demonstrators, they are enormously encouraged; whenever some other official — typically from the State Department — speaks words subject to many interpretations (or, worse still, proclaims the current regime “a democracy,” as Deputy Secretary of State Armitage did in February), it sends a chill through the hearts of the freedom fighters. Despite the endless barrage of anti-American rhetoric from the mullahs, they still maneuver to be able to demonstrate American acceptance of their power, knowing that any hint of American legitimization of the regime will weaken their opponents.
In Iran, where treachery has long been the national sport and superstition the bedrock of political analysis, the people are casting runes and reading entrails, searching for certainty about the American strategy. Once they know it, they will act accordingly. If they see clearly, once and for all, that the United States is serious about regime change in Tehran, the ranks of the opposition will swell beyond counting. If they conclude that we have betrayed them to their masters, they will give up the struggle, at least temporarily. This is yet another reason why a clear American policy is so desperately needed. And still, the defining document, the long-awaited National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) on Iran, gathers mold in the bowels of the bureaucracy, even though we have declared ourselves at war with the terror masters since September 12, 2001.
In this confusion, the mullahs are stalling for time. They believe that if they can ride the whirlwind until next year, the president will forget foreign policy and devote all his energies to his reelection. They also believe that they can bloody us in Iraq, sending scores or even hundreds of body bags to American shores, eventually sapping our will and sending us home. And they believe that once they can demonstrate possession of an atomic bomb, they will become the North Korea of the Middle East, invulnerable to American attack.
They are wrong on all counts. If this president sees our victory in Iraq threatened by Iranian sabotage, he will act with the same resolve he has shown since the war against the terror masters began nearly two years ago. Nothing would spur him on more than the spectacle of dead American soldiers. And an Iranian bomb would only add to his urgency, and strengthen the case for American support of the democratic revolution. The bomb might deter a military attack, but the doom of the mullahs will not come from the barrel of a gun. It will come from millions of Iranians in the public spaces of the major cities, demanding an end to their misery.
So what are we waiting for?
— Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen, Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, can be reached through Benador Associates.