As the students in Iran continue their daily protests against the Islamic government, lawmakers’ reactions on Capitol Hill have run the gamut from a cautious apprehension of the regime’s collapse to a straightforward cry of “Free Iran!”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R., Ind.), who departs Thursday for a fact-finding trip to Jordan and Iraq, has limited enthusiasm for the current unrest in the nation that President Bush called a member state in the Axis of Evil.
In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Lugar said he would “not necessarily” want to see a regime change in Iran.
”A regime change that comes through the democratic processes of Iran, through the students and the young people taking charge — how all that comes about, I don’t know,” Lugar said. “But I think it has to be an Iranian process, which we can assist.”
Lugar said that while he sympathizes with its supporters of the proposed Iran Democracy Act, he does not support the bill, which would allocate approximately $57 million to Iranian opposition groups and satellite television broadcasters. The House version would also slap new sanctions on Iran, a “total embargo” in order to “encourage the people of Iran to bring about a more peaceful and democratic government.”
“I want to leave some running room for that formulation to occur rather than interjecting some things that the administration doesn’t want,” Lugar said. “They don’t really want that act, for the moment. But, on the other hand, it may be helpful down the trail. So it’s sort of out there in reserve.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican and member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
“Some people have claimed that Iran is a democracy of sorts,” Brownback said at a Friday news conference. “The actions of the Iranian government against the Iranian people right now, proves without a shadow of a doubt, that there is no democracy in Iran right now. The people have come into the streets to express their frustration — and instead of listening to them, the government is sending out plain-clothes thugs to beat them up, identify student leaders, arrest them and torture them… Civilized nations do not treat their people this way.”
“This is how history is made — one brave act at a time,” Brownback said. The world is watching how the regime treats you and will hold them accountable. Free Iran!”
Sen. Joseph Biden (D., Del.), ranking member on the Senate foreign-relations panel and one of Lugar’s traveling partners, has not released a recent statement on the protests. But members of his staff pointed to previous statements by the senator on Iran, indicating that he endorsed a ‘go slow’ approach.
“I think we should be working with and supporting the civilian leadership in there that’s been taking on the clerical leadership,” he said in an appearance on Meet the Press on May 27. “But in terms of going in there with force now and going in there to take down ‘that regime’ or form any revolution, we should be a little bit careful here at this point.”
On the House side, Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, is one of the most vocal critics of the Iranian regime.
“With protests underway in Iran right now, its important that American policy makers adopt a strong position in support of those brave Iranians who take to the streets to demand democracy and respect for human rights,” Sherman said. “We also need to ensure that our government adopts policies to hasten the fall of that regime by denying it material assistance.”
Sherman’s version of the Iran Democracy Act would allow the president to reduce U.S. payments to the World Bank and other multilateral institutions which “provide support to the Iranian regime.” Earlier this month, Sherman decried a little-noticed decision by the World Bank’s board to approve a $180 million loan package for the government of Iran.
“This decision shows that many of our friends in Europe and Asia, those who pushed this loan forward, are incredibly misguided when it comes to the regime in Tehran,” Sherman said. “Unfortunately, this vote is demonstrative of the fact that our own government has not made the case with our allies that this regime should be isolated, not supported. The president did not raise the issue at the G-8 meeting and the Administration indicated that it would continue its support by requesting that Congress appropriate over $750 million in 2004 for the World Bank, despite the World Bank loans to the government in Tehran.”
Another House lawmaker long associated with Iranian issues is Ohio Republican Bob Ney. The congressman, who speaks Persian, taught English in Iran in the late 1970′s, before the Shah of Iran was ousted in the 1979 revolution.
“I am appalled by the crackdown on these student demonstrators, but at the same time, their voices are growing louder by the day and they are being heard around the world,” Ney said Monday. “The indomitable desire of a people to be free cannot be muzzled forever, and I am confident that the Iranian people will soon reach their goals of freedom and democracy.”
Several lawmakers on congressional foreign-affairs panels, including Republican Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (R.) and George Allen of Virginia (R.), and House International Affairs Committee Chairman Henry Hyde of Illinois (R.), have not yet issued statements or made any comments on the Iranian protests.
— Jim Geraghty, a reporter for States News Service, is a regular contributor to NRO.