Monday, February 15, 2010

So you really want another revolution in Iran?

Anti-government Protests in Tehran

Many neoconservatives are beginning to realize that there’s not going to be a war with Iran, at least not anytime soon. Give the neocons a couple years to replace the evil but rational Barack Obama with an evil but not so rational Republican, and they might get their wish. But until then, they’re being forced to look for different, less violent ways to topple the Islamic regime.

Along with pressuring Obama to impose “harsh sanctions” on Iran, many continue insisting that the president needs to do more to show his support for the Green Movement. Bill Kristol, for example, writes that Obama should support “The Iran Democratic Transition Act.” Recently introduced in the Senate by John Coryn (R-Texas) and Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), the bill which would authorize the president “to support a transition to democracy in Iran by providing non-military assistance to Iranian democratic opposition organizations.” The Iranian people, Kristol believes, might be able to prevail without “a champion in the White House. But it would be easier if they had a champion.”

The assumption here is that a democratic Iran would be an American-like, American-friendly Iran. Just get rid of the ruling regime, Kristol believes, and the United States, and by extension Israel, will gain an ally in the Middle East.

As you might remember, Kristol gave us this exact argument in the months preceding the Iraq invasion. Echoing Dick Cheney’s prediction that Iraqis would greet American forces as “liberators,” Kristol claimed that removing Saddam Hussein would cause the United States to be “respected in the Arab world,” that it “could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East,” starting “a chain reaction in the Arab world that would be very healthy.”

Of course, none of these predictions came to pass. While Iraqis were happy to be rid of Saddam, most of them viewed American troops as occupiers. A 2006 poll showed that the vast majority of Iraqis wanted U.S. forces to leave their country within the year; more than 60% supported insurgent attacks against U.S. forces. At the same time, America’s popularity throughout the Muslim world plummeted [.pdf]. And none of those other “terrifically good effects” ever ensued. What did ensue was a new police state in Iraq, one that, unlike Saddam’s regime, is closely allied with Iran.

Similarly, there is no reason to believe that regime change in Iran would serve America’s interests. Although there was certainly some vote-rigging in last summer’s presidential election, polls conducted before and after the election reveal that a majority of voters did in fact support Ahmadinejad. Moreover, 87% of Iranians are satisfied with the current “system of government” (41% are very satisfied, 46% somewhat satisfied), and “[l]arge majorities, including majorities of Mousavi supporters, endorse the Islamist character of the regime such as having a body of Islamic scholars with the power to veto laws they see as contrary to sharia.”

According to a 2009 poll, only 29% of Iranians hold a favorable view of the United States. Another poll shows that less than 5% [.pdf] hold a favorable view of Israel. The same poll found that 62% oppose a peace treaty with Israel and favor “all Muslims fighting until there is no State of Israel in the Middle East.” Similar numbers believe Iran should continue arming Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.

And it’s not as though removing Khamenei and company will put an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The vast majority of Iranians share the ruling regime’s view that Iran has the right to a nuclear program, a full 91% believing it’s important to have a “full-fuel-cycle nuclear program.”

I don’t write any of this to justify the Iranian government or to downplay the grievances of the reformists. I just think it’s important to better understand what the Iranian people believe and the probable consequences of a new revolution. Their anger against the United States is real and deep, and if we really want to gain a new friend in the Middle East, then we need to change our foreign policy. Ending our current (harsh) sanctions against Iran and recognizing the nation’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes would be a good start.

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