August 12, 2010

Neocon War Plans Undermine Iranians’ Quest for Democracy

The “Bomb Iran” crowd, fresh off their historic blunder in Iraq, is now at it again with Iran. As if the daily drumbeat of articles and op-eds advocating war with Iran was not enough, Republicans in the House of Representatives have introduced a truly dangerous resolution — explicitly green-lighting the use of force by Israel against Iran.

Any military strike — whether by the United States or Israel — is likely to pull the United States into a regional war and cause mass civilian casualties. Such an attack would truly be “calamitous” — to use the same description as the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen.

One could use the same word to describe what effect an attack would have on Iran’s struggle for democracy. If war breaks out with Iran, Iranians across the political spectrum would rally behind the government, and the emboldened government would be free to unleash the full potential of its terror to ruthlessly seek out and decimate the Green Movement — America’s best hope for a peaceful and democratic partner in Iran.

The recent influx of articles arguing for an Israeli or American-led attack downplays the unintended consequences such a strike would have inside Iran. Proponents of war argue that it would create outrage amongst Iranians against the government who brought the attack upon them, and would even potentially cause Iranians to overthrow their regime. To believe this is to seriously misunderstand nationalism, the Iranian people, and Iranian history.

The constant in Iran’s century long quest for democracy has been progress in times of peace and steps back in times of siege. From the time of the Tobacco Revolt in 1891 onward, attempts at democracy have been repeatedly frustrated by acts or threats of foreign intervention.

In the wake of last June’s disputed elections in Iran, members of Congress such as Mike Pence, Dan Burton and Kay Granger all sponsored resolutions expressing support for the Iranian people, their human rights, and democratic aspirations. Yet all of them are also sponsors of Gohmert’s resolution encouraging an attack on Iran–an attack that would have the exact opposite effect of what they claim to support. This is the height of hypocrisy.

Nine days after the 9/11 attacks, neoconservatives Reuel Marc Gerecht and William Kristol sent a letter to President Bush urging war with Saddam “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack.” It is Déjà vu all over again as Kristol and the crowd over at the Weekly Standard now scream for an even more foolish assault on Iran. Kristol recently berated President Obama for purportedly failing to support Iranian protestors last summer. One cannot claim to support the Iranian people while simultaneously working tirelessly to promote war with Iran. Kristol seems to want to have it both ways.

Reuel March Gerecht on the other hand is just wrong. Gerecht doesn’t even pretend to care about the Iranian people, and in his recent 11-page war opus in the Weekly Standard pushes for a war scenario in Iran that he says should “rock the system.” Gerecht argues that now is the best time to attack Iran and that an attack would help the Green Movement thrive. But such reckless disregard for Iran’s history and internal dynamics is to be expected from someone who claims “Iranians have terrorism in their DNA.”

Many Iranians strongly dislike or even despise their government, but Iranians have historically rallied around unpopular governments when faced with an external threat. Eight years of war with Iraq strengthened the nascent Islamic revolution by mobilizing people against Iraq and giving Iran’s most ruthless leaders the cover necessary to purge political opponents. While we witness and read seemingly endless reports of human rights abuses being committed on a daily basis in Iran, it is worth remembering that Iran executed as many as thirty-thousand political prisoners under the cover of the Iran-Iraq war.

More recent history proves the same. Iranians took to the streets in 1999 in student protests that posed the most serious challenge to the Islamic system since the 1979 revolution. This occurred at a time when moderates ruled both in Iran and the United States, and tensions with the West were at an all-time low. Under the Bush administration, however, Iranians fearful of an attack were forced to scale back their criticisms and attempts at political liberalization.

In the words of the prominent Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji, “Since Iranians, in particular opposition groups, do not want to see a repeat of Afghanistan or Iraq in Iranthey’ve actually had to scale back their opposition to the government in order not to encourage an invasion [by the U.S.]”

It was not until 2009 that Iranians were again given the same political space. The Obama administration’s less-threatening language toward Iran allowed reform-minded Iranians to challenge the status quo without being labeled enablers of the enemy. “Obama offered a dialogue with Iran and this change in discourse immediately gave rise to that outpouring of sentiment against the Islamic Republic last year,” Ganji said.

In short, a war against Iran would be the external influence needed by the regime to extend its shelf life. It will decimate the Green Movement by giving hardliners an excuse to crack down on dissent and ruin any hope for liberalism and democracy for the foreseeable future.

In the words of one Iranian merchant in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar who participated in the recent strikes against the Iranian government’s proposed tax hikes, “We are a people with a strong sense of national awareness. We have serious disagreements with the government, but if there’s war everyone will fight.”

Bombing Iran would do nothing short of destroy Iran’s chances for democracy. Neoconservatives who argue an attack on Iran would do wonders for the Green Movement are pushing an idea that is not just wrong, but dangerous. The same individuals told us once before that we would be greeted as liberators. We would be wise not to let them fool us twice.

This article also appeared in the Huffington Post.




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