The foreign-policy establishment has spoken: The popular uprising in Iran was not, and could not have been, foreseen from any realistic analysis of the situation prior to the June 12 elections. There was nothing we could have done to hasten or prevent such an occurrence, and now the best thing President Obama can do is sit cautiously on the sidelines so as not to make the Green Revolution look like an American-sponsored uprising.
After the shock of Sept. 11, 2001, I intensely focused my attention, as a U.S. senator, on the Middle East. It soon became apparent to me that the major security threat to the rest of the region and to our country was Iran — the largest and wealthiest state sponsor of terrorism, with an avowed public purpose of spreading the Islamic revolution. Since Iran is an open enemy of our country (it has been in a state of war against the United States for almost 30 years), I thought that instead of making nice, we should try to thwart its advances in the Middle East and do anything we could to destabilize the Tehran regime.
To combat Iran’s stoking of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors, I authored and, in April 2002, introduced the Syrian Accountability Act. This bill envisioned using economic and diplomatic sanctions to make Syria (a client of Iran) stop supporting terrorists and end its occupation of Lebanon. Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Bush administration opposed the bill, because they thought it better to engage in dialogue with the Syrians and the Iranians instead of fighting them.
They were not alone. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Joe Biden, opposed the bill too. Not until the fall of 2003 — after the Republicans had taken over control of the Senate, the administration’s attempts to negotiate with Syria and Iran had repeatedly failed, and the situation had deteriorated further in Lebanon — did the president agree to support it. The law turned out to be an important factor in forcing the Iranian-backed Syrian government out of Lebanon — and eventually weakening the Iranian-funded terrorist group/political party Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, I sought out and attended intelligence briefings on Iran, and unlike the current House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, I actually remember the classified briefings I received between 2003 and 2006. At these meetings, I heard the same thing from expert after expert: The Tehran regime is stable; its repression of the Iranian people is complete and effective; there is no organized resistance of any consequence in the country. Given that reality, plus the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the establishment concluded that our only options were to contain, deter, or engage the mullahocracy.
Not everyone was ready to give up so easily. After learning that Iran’s Quds force, a special unit of the Republican Guard, was actively funding, supplying, and training the enemy fighting our soldiers in Iraq, as well as other terrorists around the globe, I introduced the Iran Freedom and Support Act in 2004. Not a single member of the Senate would co-sponsor the legislation, because the bill’s overt objective was to promote “regime change” in Iran.
Now admittedly, given the problems we were facing in Iraq in 2004, “regime change” was a loaded concept. Dozens of senators who supported the provisions calling for economic sanctions and the funding of pro-democracy groups said they would sign on only if “regime change” was removed.
In 2005 I changed the wording to specify the promotion of “free and fair elections” in Iran. That did the trick, and about 60 senators eventually signed on. In June of 2006, after the announcement of significant advances in Iran’s nuclear program, as well as Iran’s continued involvement in helping the Iraqi insurgents and Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s pronouncements about “wiping Israel off the face of the earth,” I offered the bill as an amendment on the floor of the Senate.
This was two months after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had announced that, for the first time, the Bush administration was going to participate in talks with our European allies and Tehran about Iran’s nuclear program. I thought: What better way to get the Iranians to talk seriously than a little congressional saber-rattling about confronting the regime directly if those talks failed?
Although I was assured by the administration that it would not oppose the bill, on the day of the vote Senator Biden produced a letter from Secretary Rice doing just that. According to Rice and Biden, the time was not right to support the democracy movement in Iran. Sen. Barack Obama voted with Biden, and my amendment was defeated by a slim majority.
The talks went forward and, predictably, they accomplished only one thing: They gave the Iranians six more months to continue development of their nuclear program without any threat from the West. After the Western nations were humiliated by Ahmadinejad’s statecraft, opposition to my bill melted away, and the Senate, just weeks before the election, passed a slightly watered-down version.
A major step forward? Not quite. Millions of dollars have been made available to the State Department to communicate with, and support the aspirations of, the millions of young Iranians (two-thirds of the country is under the age of 30) who long to be free from the corrupt, repressive mullahocracy. But neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration has used the money for that purpose.
Why? Because the foreign-policy establishment could not foresee a popular uprising.
So now, with Iranians being viciously beaten and even killed for demanding democracy, what do these sages advise? Caution, quiet, and carefully parsed words, so as not to offend whichever side wins. Even worse are their claims that if President Obama were to speak positively about the revolutionaries, the regime would portray this popular uprising as an American-sponsored coup. Our experts evidently believe Ahmadinejad will be able to convince the Revolutionary Guards and the public that Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the hand-picked candidate of the mullahs — who is vocally anti-American, was one of the fathers of the Iranian nuclear program, and as Ayatollah Khomeini’s prime minister was responsible for the slaughter of thousands of Iranian dissidents in the 1980s — is a pawn of the United States.
The people in the streets know the truth, and so do the leaders of the Revolutionary Guards. The uprising is a real and potentially broad-based rejection of a government that is not holy, honest, or competent.
This is an opportunity to fell a regime whose potential for harming the world is enormous. While our economic sanctions and isolation of the regime have had a negative impact on its popularity, the revolution is not of our making; the people of Iran have made it themselves. It is significant that the protesters are carrying signs in Farsi and English. They are pleading for our help and support. President Obama should be backing these courageous men and women in every way possible, including words of support for their efforts and condemnation of Ahmadinejad’s government and the Basiji (militia) thugs.
President Obama: The State Department and the so-called experts, including President Carter and your vice-president, have been repeatedly wrong about Iran since before the last revolution, in 1979. Give the Iranians a chance to end their misery and enhance our security. Lead.
– Rick Santorum, who represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2007, is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.