Sunday, May 15, 2005

Iran is Pivotal

Saul Singer, The Jerusalem Post:
It's easy to get arrested in Iran. If you go to you'll see why Professor Mohamad Reza Fathi was interrogated by the "morality squad" in Qom on March 26. He posted articles on the Internet bemoaning the "scant capacity of civil servants to accept criticism."

IFEX (, a group that monitors attacks on cyber-dissidents, reports what happened next: "Local police arrested Fathi nine days later in the street, in front of his students, and paraded him handcuffed through the city. He was held for three days and was questioned again in camera, without his lawyer being present. On his release, he was resigned to closing down his blog, despite its local popularity." READ MORE

Most of us can't read Fathi's blog because it is in Farsi. We can see, however, the incongruous banner from, including a button called "get your own blog." The leftover banner reminds me of Milan Kundera's story of the purged communist apparatchik who was airbrushed out of official pictures. "All that remains of Clementis is the hat on Gottwald's head," which he had lent to his colleague on the reviewing stand.

Last month there were massive demonstrations and work stoppages in the oil-rich regions, centering around the city of Ahwaz. As Iran-watcher Michael Ledeen reports, "The demonstrators called for an end to the regime, scores of people were killed, and hundreds were beaten and arrested. On May Day, workers again demonstrated against the regime, this time in all the major cities. In Tehran, strongman and likely president-in-waiting Hashemi Rafsanjani was hooted down by the crowd, and pictures of him and Supreme Leader Khamenei were torn down and trampled."

These events, largely ignored by the media, are more important than the bombs going off in Baghdad, the recent Palestinian elections, disengagement and practically everything else going on in the world today. They are the pivot on which the entire war against militant Islamism will turn. It is time we paid attention.

I USUALLY agree with Victor Davis Hanson, who writes eloquently about our current global struggle, but in this month's Commentary I think he misses the mark. In an article titled "The Bush Doctrine's Next Test," he suggests that "Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia are... the East Germany, Hungary, and Poland of the unfree Middle East: pivotal nations upon whose fate the entire future of the Bush Doctrine may well hinge."

Far be it from me to disagree that the US should promote democracy more aggressively in these three countries, rather than continuing the pre-9/11 coddling that Bush has so eloquently discredited. But Hanson suggests that going after these outliers is the way to "further isolate and enfeeble... the current front-line enemies like Iran and Syria."

Bush, by contrast, seems to follow the principle of first picking the low-hanging fruit. Iraq and Afghanistan were two of the most egregious supporters of terrorism and exceptions to democracy in the world - the US was right to confront them first. Even if the tactics change, as they should, the strategy of concentrating on the greatest threats, whose transformation would have the greatest impact, should continue. Iran is hands down the most immediate test for the Bush Doctrine.

Historian Bernard Lewis, who has not been starry-eyed about democratizing the Middle East, wrote in the current Foreign Affairs, "The main threat to the development of democracy in Iraq and ultimately in other Arab and Muslim countries lies not in any inherent social quality or characteristic, but in very determined efforts that are being made to ensure democracy's failure."

Put a bit less delicately, this means that the prognosis for Iran and Iraq is linked and binary: Either both nations will be free, or Iran and its terrorist allies will succeed in bringing down Iraq's nascent democracy.

On June 17, Iran is scheduled to have another "election." The people and the regime both know this will be a turning point. The people know that this may be their last chance for a while to follow the lead of the Ukranians, Lebanese and Iraqis, who came out by the millions and risked their lives for freedom (from a stolen election, from Syrian occupation, and from foreign-backed terrorists, respectively). The regime knows that if it can survive this challenge, nothing will stop its quest for the ultimate regime insurance - nuclear weapons.

The State Department has been trying to figure out how to spend million allocated by Congress to help opponents of the Iranian regime. But the first things to do don't cost money, they just require decisions.

For starters, Bush has been reluctant to say (despite his "axis of evil" line), and Condoleezza Rice has denied, that regime change is administration policy. This reticence is duly noted both by the trigger-happy mullahs and by people deciding whether to risk themselves to oppose the regime.

Second, Bush has yet to have a high-profile meeting with Iranian dissidents, or to endorse their push for a referendum on whether Iran should have an Islamic regime.

Another of what Rice has called Iran's "sham elections" is coming. What is Bush waiting for?
A valuable read.