Politics & Policy

Regime Change, Peacefully

We must continue to support the Iranian people.

An effort is underway in Washington to cut the funding for the pro-democracy movement inside Iran authorized last Congress by the Iran Freedom Support Act (IFSA). IFSA authorizes the president to provide financial and political assistance to foreign and domestic individuals, organizations, and entities working for the purpose of supporting and promoting democracy for Iran. In order to receive financial backing, these individuals and groups must support four basic pillars of democracy — freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion.

According to a letter prepared by the National Iranian American Council, the American Conservative Defense Alliance, and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and signed by 23 other groups,

Iranian reformers believe democracy cannot be imported and must be based on indigenous institutions and values. The intended beneficiaries of the funding — human rights advocates, civil society activists and others — uniformly denounce the program.

Set aside, for a moment, the legitimacy of some of the groups in this coalition and the fact that some, like NIAC, have been questioned about ties to the ruling mullahs in Iran, while others are solidly left-wing pacifists. Let’s also set aside the fact that most of the money is not going inside Iran, but is being spent by the State Department through Voice of America and with other entities outside of Iran. Nevertheless, these groups claim that the Iranian regime has wised up to the American funding and is using it as an excuse to crackdown on the general population.

Consider, however, what the Iranian regime was like before IFSA was passed. Thousands of students, journalists, bloggers, and dissidents suffered for years in the infamous Evin Prison where they are tortured because they dare to speak against the mullahs. Thousands more have been put to death by hanging, stoning, and other barbaric methods for other various “crimes” against the regime. Forty-eight million women have lived under a regime that for 37 years has valued their lives at half that of a man’s. Homosexuals, many still teenagers, are routinely prosecuted and executed under Sharia law, even though President Ahmadinejad claims that “we don’t have this problem.” (By some counts, 4,000 have been put to death since the Iranian Revolution.) The Shiite rulers of Iran brutally persecute Bahais, Christians, Jews, and even Muslim dissidents. How is it, that amidst these heinous acts, ISFA is considered by some to be the problem?

As the author of the Iran Freedom Support Act, I can tell you that the purpose of the law is to respond to Iran’s ongoing hostility toward the U.S. and its overt support of Islamic terrorism around the globe, to impede the regime’s development of nuclear weapons through increased sanctions, and to support a transition to democracy in Iran. Did I anticipate that the totalitarian regime would simply relent on all fronts if it was feeling increased economic and political pressure? No.

Remember that in 1979, after taking 52 American citizens hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran declared itself our enemy. It has been at war with us ever since. On April 18, 1983, Iranian-supported Hezbollah killed 63 people including 17 Americans in our embassy in Beirut. Six months later, 241 Marines were killed at a similar attack at the Marine barracks. Iran also had a role in the savage attack against the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. The attacked killed 19 Americans and wounded hundreds of others.

Iran is the principle obstacle to a stable Iraq; it provides the training, support, and weapons to kill our soldiers. Republicans and Democrats alike have chosen to ignore the inconvenient fact that they are at war against us, while the regime in Tehran fully embraces the struggle to defeat the U.S. Tehran views IFSA as an attack, so it the expectation should be that this evil regime will respond with counterattacks. That is one explanation for an increase in the sponsoring of terrorism, attacks on our troops, as well as more saberrattling on nuclear weapons, and more crackdowns on the freedom fighters in Iran.

It is becoming even clearer that Iran is a growing threat to its neighbors, and with its growing alliance with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, it is becoming a formidable threat around the world, particularly in this hemisphere.

Many proposals on how to deal appropriately with Iran are being tossed back and forth. American politicians — including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — want to engage Iran, reason with them, or at worst try to contain them through appeasement.

I believe the policies suggested by Obama and Clinton will give Iran exactly what it needs most: time. With time, Iran will develop a nuclear weapon and terrorist networks to destabilize governments in the Middle East, gain control of the region, and grab a lock on the world’s oil supply. That would leave us with few options indeed.

Another option is a military strike aimed at Iran’s nuclear research facilities. While we cannot rule out that option, it should clearly be a last resort, given the difficulty of the target and the likelihood that military action would strengthen the regime’s hold on the country in the short term.

The only way to turn off the anti-U.S. war machine is to end the radical Shiite revolution against the Sunni Muslim world and the West. Accomplishing such a goal requires a change of regime, and the institution of democracy. We have seen what has happened in other areas around the world through a combination of economic and political pressure on a regime.

A democratic regime in Iran will create more political freedom and human rights for women, religious minorities, and homosexuals in Iran. And it will go a long way toward ending the war in Iraq, eliminating the nuclear threat, and reducing terrorist attacks. It will not come without great sacrifice among the freedom fighters in Iran. They should not be alone in the fight.

Former Senator Rick Santorum (R., Pa.) is as senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He is the author of the 2006 Iran Freedom Support Act.


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