On September 25 — the day President Obama, President Sarkozy, and Prime Minister Brown announced the existence of a new Iranian facility for uranium enrichment — wire services reported that five American soldiers had been killed by “roadside bombs” in Afghanistan. Such weapons have long been provided by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to anti-American terrorists throughout the region. It is part of Iran’s 30-year war against the United States.
That long war is at least as important as Iran’s nuclear project, but it is rarely mentioned; we refuse to see Iran as an evil power openly dedicated to our destruction. This has nothing to do with American parties or ideologies; Democrats and Republicans, Left and Right, have refused to acknowledge the Iranian regime for what it has been for 30 years, and the current administration is at one with its predecessors.
Our refusal to see manifest evil is part of a longstanding pattern. The leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran inspire and conduct mass murder at home and abroad, just as fascists and Communists did in the last century. They call upon their followers to destroy us, just as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin did. Hitler wrote it all down before the creation of the Third Reich, and Khomeini’s doctrines and intentions were published before he created the Islamic Republic. The fanatics who rule in Tehran routinely call the citizens of free countries decadent, corrupt, self-indulgent, satanic infidels, and are killing us wherever they can. Seventy-five years ago, we sat by as Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini planned wars of expansion and relentlessly built their military power; and now, once again, we refuse to recognize evildoers as they wage proxy war against us while they expand their arsenal.
The founding fanatic of the Islamic Republic, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, left little doubt about his hatred for us. “It is America which considers Islam and the glorious Koran a source of harm to himself and wishes to remove both from its path,” he wrote, even before seizing power. Once in control, he routinely called us the “Great Satan.” More recently, we have heard President Ahmadinejad’s denunciations of America, and seen thousands of Iranians in the streets of Tehran, led by the ruling mullahs in chants of “Death to America!”
That unpleasant fact should be at the heart of our national debate. If Iran were not actively killing Americans and did not call for our destruction, the prospect of a nuclear Iran would not be so threatening.
The evil we face is obvious. The Iranian tyrants declared war on us shortly after the overthrow of the shah, and have attacked us ever since, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. As was true in the last century with similar enemies, we refuse to see the evil in front of our eyes. As before, there is no convenient escape from this conflict; they will fight until one of us has been defeated.
If we did it properly, we could bring them down without firing a shot. Can anyone doubt that most Iranians detest the regime? Does the situation in Iran today not fulfill the requirements of a revolutionary condition? Every night, millions of Iranians chant “Death to the Dictator” from their rooftops, and their words are accompanied by action. In mid-August, a huge petrochemical facility was bombed, and almost every day, an aircraft carrying important people — typically planes operated by the Revolutionary Guards — either crashes or manages an emergency landing in extremis.
Knowing that their doom will come from their own people, regime leaders have been torturing and slaughtering their opponents. Demonstrators’ bodies have been hidden in meat-storage facilities, and their frozen cadavers dumped into public cemeteries in the middle of the night. Relatives have been permitted to take the mutilated bodies of their dear ones only if they swear to say that death came about by natural causes, or in automobile accidents. Citizens who testify to the horrors in Iranian prisons often disappear, but the evidence cannot be hidden. Photographs and videos circulate on the Internet.
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.