For nearly 10 months, the American media has fronted the plight of the Ukrainian people and their desire to be free from Vladimir Putin’s occupation. It is a credit to him that he has kept his focus on an issue that has profound security implications for America and the world.
However, in the Islamic Republic of Iran there is an equally strong quest for freedom against a brutal dictatorship that has terrorized its people for 40 years but received little attention. Destabilization of the Iranian regime by its people, along with the possibility of its fall, is arguably also a significant American national security interest.
Can Americans support Ukrainian and Iranian people at the same time?
Some issues are related, so it’s easy to connect the dots. “Iran is now at war with Ukraine; Tehran has taken its fight against the West to Europe,” says an article in foreign policy by two experts at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy. Understanding that when Russian forces use Iranian drones to kill Ukrainian civilians, while the Iranian regime is simultaneously killing its own people, these are not unrelated events. It is the responsibility of American leaders who are part of a long war against the West, freedom and American values.
Many Americans are completely unaware that hundreds of innocent people have been killed, thousands arrested, and many tortured by one of the world’s most notorious and long-running human rights abuser regimes during the recent protests in Iran. On Iran’s human rights record, American administrations looked the other way in the name of realpolitik and, for a time, in pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran.
Iranian activist Nazanin Boniadi, speaking at the United Nations Security Council’s Aria-Formula meeting in Iran this month, sought to convince the international body that Iran’s actions against its citizens are crimes against humanity. In a misogynistic society, women lead protests and risk their lives. Iran ranks 140 out of 144 countries in gender inequality as ranked by the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap. Women in Iran are arrested, raped, sent to “re-education centers”, tortured and killed – yet, they endure.
When has it ever been good for America — or any nation in the free world — to ignore its values to appease a tyrannical dictator? The Iranian regime does not change; It cannot be improved. The Iranian people are not asking for arms but international vocal support to acknowledge their right to protest, speak freely and decide their own future. They are a non-violent movement whose support they seek is the megaphone of the free world.
The current protests are unique in their size, compared to previous demonstrations, bringing together every ethnic group in Iranian society. In the 2019 protests, the grievance was economic; In 2009, it was triggered by the tough election of a thug as president. Today it is opposed to the legitimacy of the regime and its suffocating theocracy.
According to the human rights organization Hengao, “Iranians of all ages, ethnicities and genders have joined the demonstrations, but mainly the younger generation has taken to the streets. Women started a wave of protests. But everyone joined. Women and men stand shoulder to shoulder. All of Iran is united.
Cornered with limited options, a ruthless authoritarian nation will do anything to survive. The administration’s response to the accelerating coup will test the will of the Iranian people and the will of America and its Middle Eastern allies. One of the administration’s strategies is to divert attention with provocations against America and its regional partners, hoping to elicit a mobilized response. This tactic is to rally the proud Iranian people around their flag and support a hostile regime against foreign invaders.
Retired Adm. James Stavridis said, “Hatred of America has long proven to be a driving force in Iran. Out of desperation, the regime could provoke a crisis with the United States. The simplest way to do this is to assassinate a US official. Our retaliation, if clumsily handled, could allow the regime to rally the Iranian people around the besieged flag. In August, the Justice Department ex- An Iranian was accused of plotting to assassinate National Security Agency adviser John Bolton.
The best thing America can do is for President Biden to use his pulpit as leader of the free world to support the nonviolent movement of the Iranian people to determine their own destiny. During a campaign stop this month, Biden made an off-the-cuff remark: “Don’t worry, we’re going to liberate Iran and they’re going to liberate themselves soon.” Unfortunately, follow-up is poor.
Many in the Biden administration still hope to return to the Iran nuclear deal. This undermines long-term US security interests for a stable Middle East, increasing the chance of regional war with an economically prosperous authoritarian regime. And it condemns the Iranian people to more decades of violence, torture and repression.
That is not the side of history America should be on, for the sake of our values and long-term interests. As Ronald Reagan said, “We know very well that war comes not when the forces of freedom are strongest, but when they are weakest. Then tyrants are tempted. 7
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is its director MEPIN, Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report. Follow him on Twitter @mepin org.