March 25, 2015 | National Review
Still Needed: Regime Change in Iran
In December 2010, a Tunisian fruit-stand vendor set himself ablaze to protest the arbitrary closure of his business. Mohamed Bouazizi’s suicide sparked an upheaval in Tunisia that led to the gradual, if halting, emergence of democracy in that country.
On March 14, 2015, an Iranian died of burn wounds after setting himself on fire in front of Khorramshahr City Hall in Khuzestan Province. Younes Asakereh’s suicide was also the municipality’s removal of his fruit stand. With the exception of a BBC Persian article, his death went largely unnoticed by the media.
Asakereh’s death reflects the fact, though, that widespread economic corruption and misery combined with a crackdown on personal liberties under so-called moderate President Hassan Rouhani have presented, and still do present, the potential for regime change.
In The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, the greatest living historian of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, wrote that Iran’s regime is “strongly anti-American” but there exists a democratic opposition “capable of taking over” and building a government. “We, in what we like to call the free world, could do much to help them, and have done little,” he writes.
In 2009, Barack Obama infamously abandoned Iran’s pro-democracy Green Movement as they threatened to undo a stolen election. Young, restless Iranians hell-bent on freedom asked, ”Obama, are you with us or against us?“ Sadly, Obama squandered a historic opportunity to overthrow a decades-old terrorist regime and likely halt its illicit nuclear-weapons work.
Fast forward to 2015. Obama’s March 19 remarks ahead of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, sought to mainstream Iran’s regime. He hoped for “progress between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the international community, including the United States.”
Nevertheless, the U.S. State Department still designates Iran as the leading state sponsor of terrorism. The history is horrific: Iran and its militias were responsible for the deaths of least 1,500 American military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama’s Nowruz address failed to criticize Iran for its horrific human-rights violations. Shortly before Obama’s holiday greeting, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N.’s human-rights monitor for Iran, said that despite Rouhani’s promises to loosen the vice on Iranians, repression has increased.
Take the examples of Iranian Christians and journalists. Shaheed’s detailed report found:
As of 1 January 2015, at least 92 Christians remain in detention in the country allegedly due to their Christian faith and activities. In 2014 alone, 69 Christian converts were reportedly arrested and detained for at least 24 hours across Iran. Authorities reportedly continued to target the leaders of house churches, generally from Muslim backgrounds. Christian converts also allegedly continue to face restrictions in observing their religious holidays.
According to his report, Iran has incarcerated 29 reporters, bloggers, and Internet activists since May 2014.
How can the Obama administration expect Iran’s regime to comply with a nuclear agreement when Rouhani cannot deliver on basic commitments to human rights?
All this helps to explain why my FDD colleague John Hannah’s January article, “It is time to pursue regime change in Iran,” carries great urgency.
The U.S. and the West can choose between encouraging a democratic Iranian social and political order defined by a liberal economy and free society or supporting the continued existence of a fanatically anti-American regime on the brink of developing nuclear weapons.
The Obama administration’s recent moves suggest they’d prefer the latter.
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal.