Foreign Policy

Time to Stand With Iran's People

Protests in Iran continue as millions of Iranian men and woman stand up to a regime that is feared, hated and distrusted.

National Security Desk · Jan. 2, 2018

Protests in Iran continue on Tuesday as millions of ordinary Iranian men and woman stand up to a regime that is feared, hated and distrusted by the population. The spark for the latest nationwide protests was economic, but it ignited a combustible grievance that has been steadily building since at least the late 1990s — in truth since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The vast majority of Iran’s 80 million people have no memory of the Revolution, and see only a brutal regime that enforces a medieval Islamic code of social mores while enriching itself and squandering the revenue provided by the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves. Highly educated and technically literate, young Iranians admire and, to the extent feasible, adopt many of the West’s cultural practices in music, television, dress and treatment of women. Yet they see their young Western counterparts enjoying higher employment numbers and freedom of expression, while young Iranians suffer a 40% unemployment rate and state-controlled speech. Very much like Soviet communism in the 1980s, the Islamic Revolution in Iran is old, tired and no longer able to inspire loyalty with its ideas, instead demanding loyalty with its guns.

The regime’s reaction to the latest protests has followed the usual playbook of denunciations by various officials, harsh crackdowns by the security forces, and of course blaming external forces for all of Iran’s problems. President Hassan Rouhani, who is widely blamed for the lack of any economic benefit for ordinary Iranians following the 2015 nuclear deal, stated Monday, “Our great nation has witnessed a number of similar incidents in the past and has comfortably dealt with them. This is nothing.”

As of Tuesday the regime has demonstrated relative restraint, but with protesters reportedly storming police stations and — most remarkably — chanting slogans directly criticizing Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the likelihood of greater violence on the part of the security forces is high. At least 21 are dead already.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have issued strong statements of support for the protesters — alas, choosing Twitter as their medium rather than a formal statement. Twitter comments lack anything resembling serious thought, have a lifespan of mere days, and after a year of non-stop Twitter blasts from the president there is significant Twitter fatigue among Americans and people around the world. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed how it should be done:

Still, the president’s immediate and unequivocal support for the protesters is a welcome change from his predecessor’s unwillingness to do or say anything that might derail his cherished nuclear appeasement — something his buffoon of a secretary of state, John Kerry, continues even now. Kerry could only bring himself to say, “It’s an Iranian moment and not anyone else’s. But the rights of people to protest peacefully and voice their aspirations are universal and governments everywhere should respect that.” Even the reliably leftist Washington Post took a stronger position than Kerry, stating plainly, “The West should support the protesters in Iran.”

It remains to be seen what the latest round of protests will accomplish, and there is little reason to be optimistic in the near term given the regime’s absolute monopoly on force and demonstrated willingness to employ it. But as Trump, Netanyahu and history itself have stated, dictatorial regimes cannot last forever, because there are always more of the oppressed than there are oppressors. Again, the Soviet example is instructive. No regime has ever had a greater monopoly on force or greater willingness to use it, yet it was toppled by the same desire for freedom now rocking Iran. And just as in the Soviet example, the moral and material support of the United States will be vital, both in the short term and the long term. We hope and expect President Trump will keep up his support for the Iranians risking their lives in pursuit of their own freedom.

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