Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Iranian regime opponents need more support

Harry's Place:The more I think about it, the more I believe the most devastating possible blow to Islamic extremism worldwide would be the overthrow of ruling regime in Iran by the people of Iran.

Imagine the impact on radical Islamists if the Islamic Republic itself-- the source of so much aid and comfort to their movements-- were to topple at the hands of a people increasingly fed up with religious-based repression. Just as the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1978 encouraged the growth of Islamist movements internationally, the collapse of the regime would-- to a large degree-- take the heart and soul out of those movements.

How would Islamist leaders explain to their followers why people who had lived for decades under a system of Islamic law-- dictating that women must be concealed and homosexuals must be executed-- had taken to the streets in their hundreds of thousands to say "no more" and to demand a more democratic and secular Iran?

The discontent under the surface of society is obvious to anyone who reads blogs and other websites produced by Iranians at home and abroad. Sometimes that discontent boils to the surface, as with the strike by Tehran bus workers. Sometimes it's apparent from the size of the crowds the authorities are able to generate for their various "mass" demonstrations.

Surely it tells us something that, according to reports, only about 400 thugs turned out at the Danish embassy in Tehran to vent their "rage" at the now-famous cartoons of Mohammed.

According to the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran, members of the Bassij paramilitary comprised most of the crowd.

Contrast this with the hudreds of thousands who regularly turned out in Tehran in the months before the overthrow of the Shah and the years immediately after. How many times can you march through the streets shouting "Death to America," "Death to Israel," and pledging to die in defense of the mullahs before it becomes a meaningless, boring routine? Unless you have a personal stake in the regime's survival, that is.

In recent days, we at Harry's Place-- along with LabourStart and a few other pro-labor websites-- have been focusing attention on the strike by Tehran's bus workers, followed by the mass imprisonment of hundreds of strikers and their families. These posts are a start, but there's much more bloggers and others could be doing.

According to Reuters, some US neoconservatives are pushing for more American assistance to the democratic forces in Iraq.

The U.S. State Department has spent about $4 million (2 million pounds) in grants for Iran-oriented pro-democracy programs, including broadcasts and support for women's rights and press freedoms. Another $10 million is available.

A rather paltry amount, considering the enormous benefits of regime change in Iran-- not least for Iranians themselves.

Writing in the Washington Post, neocon Robert Kagan made the case for a greater effort at regime change:

We need to reorient our strategy. Our justifiable fixation on preventing Iran from getting the bomb has somehow kept us from pursuing a more fundamental and more essential goal: political change in Iran. We need to start supporting liberal and democratic change for an Iranian population that we know seeks both.
The Bush administration, despite its doctrine of democratization, has not yet tried to apply it in the one place where ideals and strategic interest most clearly intersect. It has done little to push for political change or to exploit the evident weaknesses in the mullahs' regime. The steps are obvious: Communicate directly to Iran's very westernized population, through radio, the Internet and other media; organize international support for unions and human rights and other civic groups, as well as religious groups that oppose the regime; provide covert support to those willing to use it; and impose sanctions, not so much to stop the nuclear program -- since they probably won't -- but to squeeze the business elite that supports the regime.

Let's not leave this effort to the neocons.


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