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Say it, America: We support the Iranian protesters’ desire for regime change

Iran protests
Associated Press
In this Sept. 21, 2022, photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, protesters chant slogans during a protest over the death of a woman who was detained by the morality police, in downtown Tehran. The regime cut Iranians’ access to Instagram, one of the few Western social media platforms still available in the country, following days of mass protests.

Imagine how the American people would react if the Biden administration said it could not support the Ukrainian people because the overriding issue is not their freedom from the domination of an authoritarian overlord but instead that we would be caving to Vladimir Putin’s threat of using tactical nuclear weapons. What if the administration rationalized Putin’s fears and minimized his falsehoods while finding fault with Ukraine’s imperfect democracy?

Yes, apparently we do have isolationists here who have justified Putin’s indefensible actions to the point that, reportedly,  “a leaked Kremlin memo directed Russian state-sponsored media to use a [Fox commentator’s broadcasts] ‘as much as possible,’ due to his criticism of the U.S., NATO and defense of Putin.”  

Although Americans are not interested in again putting their soldiers in harm’s way, a recent Reuters/Ipsos Poll found a majority of Americans support the Ukrainian people in Russia’s war; our transfer of arms to Ukraine; and their right to determine their destiny. According to a Gallup poll, 66 percent of Americans support Ukraine in reclaiming territory, even if it prolongs the conflict, though 24 percent believe the U.S. is doing too much to help Ukraine.

Now, imagine other peoples who yearn for democracy and whose protests have been violently suppressed for decades, and America giving minimal rhetorical support in their quest for freedom. Imagine an American president who abandoned these freedom-seeking people who protested by the millions during the 2009 Green Movement in Iran, many of whom were then violently suppressed, tortured, imprisoned and even killed by a regime that continues to undermine our national security interests.

The president was Barack Obama, who legitimized Iran’s anti-American authoritarian theocracy by demanding that America’s Sunni allies and the one democracy in the Middle East — Israel — “share the neighborhood” with Iran, thereby minimizing Iran’s aggressions, terrorism and human rights violations. The naïve hope that appeasing gestures from America would lead to stability and reciprocity from Iran was as implausible then as it is now to anyone who has followed the actions of the Islamic Republic for the past 53 years. According to Gallup, 84 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Iran, and it is scary to contemplate that even 13 percent of Americans have a positive view of Iran.

The Iranian people, by and large, yearn for freedom, to throw off the yoke of their repressive regime. In contrast, their mullahs demand religious conformity at home and jihad beyond their borders to dominate their neighbors. Based on American security interests and values, our goal should be a free Iranian people, able to decide what government should lead them.

President Biden has an opportunity to make a difference, something Obama evidently chose not to do. Iranians protesting by the thousands today are demanding that they be freed from the shackles of intolerance and persecution. Iran’s notorious Evin prison is filled with dissidents, journalists, liberals, students and ordinary people used by Iran as examples to warn everyone what awaits them if they dare to speak their minds — a freedom we Americans sometimes take for granted.

This round of uprisings is connected to the torture and killing of a Kurdish-Iranian woman by Iran’s morality police for her failure to wear a hijab properly. Iran has responded to the protests with arrests, torture and killing of at least 55 people in several Iranian cities.

Benny Avni of the New York Sun wrote, “As the Iranian hair revolution intensifies in the aftermath of Mahsa Amini’s death following her arrest by hijab enforcers, Americans of goodwill are rightly asking what can be done to intensify the pressure against the Islamic Republic. It turns out that the answer is a lot, and the time to start doing it is now — beginning with President Biden.”

The Washington Post weighed in: “The Biden response — expressing support for the protesters in unflinching terms, condemning the government response, imposing sanctions — has outpaced the way the administration in which he served as vice president handled the so-called Green Revolution 13 years ago. As Aaron David Miller, who advised Obama, said, ‘Given the hammering the (Obama) administration took politically for not responding aggressively enough to the 2009 protests (Green Revolution), it didn’t want to be put in that position again.’”

So what should the Biden administration do next?

Relaxing restrictions on U.S. internet companies to fight the Iranian social media blackout and targeted sanctions against the morality police is a good beginning. However, unless more is done, it will simply be virtue signaling — a misleading, false claim that America is offering substantial support or making a significant difference.

We need to fully enforce all of the sanctions currently in place against Iran for their human rights abuses, terrorism, missile development and expansionism. Implementing secondary sanctions against nations such as China that help Iran’s resistance economy to survive would be essential in weakening the regime. Unfortunately, the Biden administration has not fully implemented the full weight of sanctions, lest it upset Iran and inhibit their desire to rejoin a flawed nuclear agreement. That agreement — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated under Obama in 2015 — guarantees Iran the ability to have a nuclear program without international limits in eight years, effectively putting a nail in the coffin to suffocate Iranian freedom.

The Biden administration must grow a spine, uphold American values, and state clearly and openly that we support the Iranian people’s desire for regime change. We should publicly declare that American policy is for a non-kinetic — i.e., no American boots on the ground — regime change. That does not lead America into another war. The howls of isolationists claiming this is warmongering should be stiffly confronted with the facts, knowing that American democratic values are on our side.

Yes, realpolitik comes into play. And yes, we cannot change the world to our liking. But unlike the isolationists, most Americans believe the United States is a force for good in the world, and our security interests are strengthened when we are engaged in the world.

At least rhetorically, we should state the obvious: After more than 50 years, we have learned that Iran’s leadership and Islamic regime are unrepentant, extreme, heinous, anti-American, antisemitic; the mullahs will not change on their own. It is in America’s national security interest for the Iranian people to control their destiny.

Regime change should be an American foreign policy goal, and we should not give in to tyrants’ threats. In their world, disengagement is seen as a weakness, an invitation to continue aggressive behavior that will come back to bite us over time.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the 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 @MepinOrg

Tags Barack Obama Human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran Iran JCPOA Protests in Iran Sanctions against Iran Vladimir Putin

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