Politics & Policy

A Very Special Anniversary

Thirty-one years after the Iranian Revolution, is a new revolt due?

As protesters prepare to gather and the regime flexes its muscle, where does Iran stand? National Review Online asked our experts to assess the situation in Iran and how the international community should react.

PETER BROOKES

Hey, Mr. President, how’s that engagement policy with Iran working out for you? Not so well, from what I can tell.

While you were busy hoping for a breakthrough, holding fast to the Pollyannaish foreign-policy notion that “if we’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to us,” the situation in Iran has only gotten worse over the last year — and precipitously so.

#ad#The Iranians are kicking up uranium enrichment beyond what is needed for reactor fuel; their ballistic-missile programs, which could carry dangerous payloads, are advancing; Tehran is re-arming Hezbollah; and the regime continues to hammer the opposition movement — one which could have changed the dynamic in Tehran but which you failed to support.

Despite missing many opportunities to get tough with Iran since you took office — were you expecting the regime to see the longstanding errors of its ways? — it’s still not clear today whether we have a policy for dealing with Tehran other than hoping for the best.

By the way, hope is no basis for a national-security strategy.

Unfortunately, allowing the Iranian regime to believe it can act with impunity — at home or abroad — will only lead to bigger, more serious problems as Tehran gains confidence and asserts itself in ways inimical to American interests.

It’s likely that the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, set for February 11, will give us a fresh look into just how bad things have gotten — and will, in all likelihood, keep getting.

– Peter Brookes, a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, is a former CIA officer.

JEFF FORTENBERRY

When it comes to Iran, the world is quickly approaching a moment of truth.

Two days ago, Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did more than publicly reject a deal from the United States and other world powers that could have been a first step toward more normal relations. He also made the provocative announcement that Iran would begin to enrich nuclear material further — ostensibly for medical purposes, but in reality to a level approaching the minimum threshold for use in a crude nuclear weapon.

On Thursday, the 31st anniversary of the revolution that put the present regime in power, large protests may once again erupt throughout Iran. In a bid to intimidate and deter protesters, the Iranian government has begun to arrest key figures in the opposition movement.

#page#

When the opposition movement first appeared in June 2009, many of us in Congress discussed behind the scenes what the proper response should be. For me, it was a fine line between prudence and risk-taking — a conscientious struggle to avoid doing anything in support of the opposition movement that would actually undermine it by giving the government sufficient pretext to crack down on it.

And so I chose prudence. I chose to remain quiet because I thought that, without a better understanding of the resiliency, the depth, the passion, the willingness to sacrifice, and the continuity of this potential movement — given the entanglements of our past history — the United States could inadvertently lead to its crushing.

#ad#It’s different now. I think that we, as an international community, with one collective voice, need to shout from the hills the Iranian people’s right to autonomy, their right to protest, and their right to seek a more just form of governance.

I support new sanctions, especially sanctions targeted at the personal assets of the Revolutionary Guard. But I believe we need to do more: The Obama administration, Congress, and the international community must place the Iranian protest movement’s struggle at the center of the world stage.

The Iranian people deserve a more moderate, reasonable, and just government in Tehran. They also may be the last and best hope for halting Iran’s drive to achieve nuclear-weapons capability. It may be the Iranian people who help the world avoid a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East.

Jeff Fortenberry is a Republican congressman from Nebraska.

JAMIE M. FLY

As thousands of protesters gather in the streets of Iranian cities, the regime unfortunately appears ready to turn to violence once again in order to maintain its grip on power, unwilling to heed its people’s calls for reform.

This comes as Iran continues to reject the outstretched hand of President Obama, most recently via this week’s announcement that the regime intends to further enrich some of its uranium, making it clearer than ever that there is no hope for a negotiated settlement to the Iranian nuclear crisis.

In fact, the best solution for Iran and the West would be the success of the opposition either on Thursday or in the days and months that follow. These protesters represent a diverse coalition, but they are united by their opposition to the murderous thugs who currently rule Iran. If they gain power, they will be more amenable to giving up Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. They will also be less likely to fund terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

The United States, given its history and its interests in the region, should be at the forefront of efforts to support those who take to the streets tomorrow as they face the batons of police and the bullets of cowardly Basij snipers.

Instead, we are lagging far behind. President Obama said on Tuesday that “the door is still open” for a negotiated settlement with the regime. It is time for this door to be closed. On Thursday and for as long as it takes to topple this regime, the United States and its allies should do everything possible to ensure the success of those Iranians risking their lives for their freedom.

Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.

#page#

VICTOR DAVIS HANSON

No one knows much in any detail about Iran: Its regime and political culture embrace systematic deception, and it has been an international pariah for over a generation. So, first-rate intelligence about the exact progress of its nuclear program, the size and viability of the opposition, and the costs and reception of its efforts in Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria are likewise hard to calibrate. Our one-year experiment in appeasement and outreach has been a failure.

#ad#All that said, however, I think the global community has resigned itself to a rough consensus on what could conceivably follow. Most of the world expects Iran to go nuclear unless a graduated process is begun immediately: a) Should overt and massive support for grassroots protests not lead to regime change in the next year, we could then see b) a total trade embargo and boycott of Iranian imports and exports, and, if that proved porous and unworkable, then might come c) a U.S.-led blockade of Iranian seas and airspace, which in turn, if futile, would raise the specter of d) air strikes to take out Iranian nuclear facilities. Given that options b through d are messy, will raise oil prices, are sure to cause rifts with China and Russia, and are unlikely to earn sustained public support in the West, we are probably left with the bad odds that either the protesters will overthrow the theocratic state or Iran will go nuclear in the next 24 months, changing the entire face of the Middle East for the worse.

In such a depressing landscape, Obama should quit voting present on the Iranian protests and take a lead in showing unequivocal public sympathy for popular resistance against a murderous and dangerous state.

– NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.

PETER HOEKSTRA

I don’t know what bold revelation or provocative action Iran is planning for February 11. I suspect a major missile test. I do know two things.

First, there is a high likelihood of bloodshed in Iran on February 11. Iranian security forces will clash with the Green peace movement, who will be using the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution to continue the peaceful protests that began after last June’s flawed presidential elections.

Second, the Obama administration’s lack of a serious Iran policy has emboldened the regime to believe it can defy the United States with impunity. The Obama administration misplayed the crackdown against election protesters last June. The president knew about the secret Qom enrichment facility for almost a year before he did anything about it. Iran defied two of the Obama administration’s deadlines on its nuclear program with no consequences. Months of U.N.-brokered talks on Iran’s enrichment program collapsed this week when Iran announced it would begin to enrich uranium to the 20 percent level.

President Obama has seriously underestimated the threat from Iran and the difficulty of negotiating with rogue states. Our Iran policy must be reset to respond to this serious threat to our homeland and our allies.

– Peter Hoekstra (R., Mich.) is the top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

#page#

MICHAEL LEDEEN

The Iranian regime is organizing a big army to put down the throngs of dissidents expected to flood the streets of Tehran and other towns and cities today. People are being brought to Tehran from the countryside (and paid $80 for the day) to beat up demonstrators.

Internet, cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, etc., are being shut down, or so the regime has ordered (somehow the Greens find a way to beat censorship every time). Foreign journalists will not be permitted to see the confrontation; they are “invited” to hear an oration from Ahmadinejad celebrating the Islamic Revolution.

#ad#Meanwhile, the new Iranian revolution expects millions of its followers in the streets. Already tonight, the chants of “Allah o Akbar” and “Death to the dictator” resonate from the rooftops.

It will be quite a show. It could even be the end of the regime, although that would surprise me. But that day is drawing closer and closer, and I think the regime’s leaders know it.

– NRO contributing editor Michael Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and author of Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West.

PAUL MARSHALL

The fact that the Iranian regime’s power base is shrinking is revealed in its strenuous, and crude, efforts to shore up its weakening religious credentials.

One tactic is to accuse the opposition of religious crimes. After the renewal of protests in December 2009, Khamenei and government loyalists called for protesters to be arrested and executed for offending God, as well as for insulting the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Demonstrators are now being charged with mohareb, or “making war against God and His Prophet.” The penalty for mohareb is death.

The government is also further vilifying minorities and trying to tie them with democracy activists in the hope of demonizing the latter. It is busily arresting Christians, continuing the trial of seven Baha’i leaders, and alleging that arms and ammunition were discovered in the homes of Baha’is recently arrested in Tehran. It alleges that civil unrest on the holy day of Ashura was the work of Baha’is, and that senior opposition members, including presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, are really closet Baha’is.

Despite these frantic efforts, the government appears to be losing the theological battle. When Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who had far more religious prestige than Khamenei and who opposed the regime, died in December, his funeral became the occasion of anti-government demonstrations. Other prestigious clerics, including several of the most senior, the Marja’iyat, “objects of emulation,” have turned against Khamenei.

This leaves the regime ever more reliant simply on its security forces, especially the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij. It is not yet clear how brutal the government is willing or able to be, but even here it must exercise caution. Montazeri and others have warned Iran’s security forces that they will have to answer to God for their actions against protesters.

– Paul Marshall is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

#page#

DANIEL PIPES

As protesters prepare to gather and the regime flexes its muscle, where does Iran stand? The regime, its grip there, its place in the world? The democracy advocates’?

Today marks the Islamic Republic of Iran’s 31st anniversary and so offers an appropriate moment both to reflect on its works and speculate about its future.

Looking at achievements, the Khomeinist regime has survived great challenges — especially an eight-year war with Iraq — and succeeded in forwarding its Islamist agenda. By exploiting many tools — religion, subversion, terrorism, carbohydrates, and potential WMD — it has become the world’s foremost security threat.

#ad#Beyond this hard shell, however, one discovers deep vulnerabilities. Domestically, there’s impoverishment, rampant inflation, drug addiction, and human trafficking, and what one analyst calls the country’s “galloping demographic decline.” These problems have inspired widespread alienation from Islamism and even from Islam itself, devastating street protests, and a split in the regime’s leadership.

Internationally, the regime’s bellicose stance has both split the Middle East and spawned enmity around the globe. In particular, its nuclear-weapons buildup could trigger an unprecedented world crisis.

Looking ahead, if the regime’s days are indubitably numbered, the agency of its demise remains unclear: millions on Iranian streets, a Revolutionary Guards coup d’état, American aircraft, or an Israeli electromagnetic pulse bomb?

However it dies, Khomeini’s creation has yet to deliver its full measure of death and destruction.

Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.

MICHAEL RUBIN

As the Islamic Republic marks its 31st Revolution Day, its future is uncertain. Regime officials gamble that they can outlast the protests. As the Washington Institute’s Patrick Clawson points out, when the Iran-Iraq War–era baby boomers enter their 30s and start families, the number of protest-age Iranians will decline. Still, any regime that has lost so much legitimacy with its people is in danger. In September 2007, the Islamic Republic reorganized the Revolutionary Guards to focus on internal threats. There is no guarantee, however, as the regime defaults on its promises to war veterans and their families, that rank-and-file Guardsmen will stay loyal.

#page#

The turning tide in Washington is also significant. While every administration — even George W. Bush’s — sought to engage the Islamic Republic, the enthusiasm with which Barack Obama pursued engagement puts to rest the canard that diplomacy had never been tried. Even hardcore realists like the Council on Foreign Relations’s Richard Haass and Ray Takeyh and one-time regime apologists like the National Iranian American Council’s Trita Parsi and the New York Times’s Richard Cohen have reversed course. Today, recognition that the regime is illegitimate and fundamental change is desirable shapes the policy consensus.

Obama can still lead on Iran. But rather than flail around seeking engagement with the regime, he can begin a real dialogue with Iranians and Americans both about how best to support regime change.

– Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, teaches “Understanding Contemporary Iran” at Johns Hopkins University.

#ad#

BENJAMIN WEINTHAL

The pro-democracy movement in Iran is an unrealized bundle of potential. Will Europe continue to stand passively on the sidelines of the Iranians’ struggle for democracy, or will Europe choose to breathe life and fire into their pro-Western movement? The European Union (EU) can breed inspiration among the democracy advocates by recalling their ambassadors from Tehran while still maintaining a low-level diplomatic presence in their embassies. Indeed, that would be a symbolic move that nevertheless subjected the Iranian regime to a form of non-recognition in response to their severe repression of democracy.

The EU can no longer prolong its slavish addiction to European-Iranian trade, which hovers around 14.1 billion euro worth of annual trade and which bolsters the potency of the Revolutionary Guards. Deemed to be a global terrorist entity by the U.S., the Guards are estimated to control 75 percent of the Iranian economy and are the key organization in crushing political dissent. What better way to convey to Iranian democrats that the EU rejects their oppressors than to place the Guards on the EU terror list? The Dutch government has broken new ground as the only EU country to advocate the criminalization of the Guards. The EU has an amazing chance to replicate and enact the Dutch legislation.

– Benjamin Weinthal is a journalist in Berlin.

NR Symposium — National Review symposia are discussions featuring contributors to and friends of the magazine.

Most Popular

World

NATO’s Challenge Is Germany, Not America

During the recent NATO summit meeting, a rumbustious Donald Trump tore off a thin scab of niceties to reveal a deep and old NATO wound — one that has predated Trump by nearly 30 years and goes back to the end of the Cold War. In an era when the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact are now ancient history, ... Read More