Dear people of Iran,
I have been a coward. A week ago, I wanted the U.S. to stay out of your revolution. I told myself that it was for your own good. But I was deceiving myself, and I was deceiving you.
I was worse than wrong. I was guilty of cowardice, because I thought your dictators would retaliate with terrorism. I was guilty of timidity, because I thought America didn’t need another foreign policy crisis when it must confront so many crises at home. I was guilty of feeling guilty, because the U.S. hasn’t always done the right thing in the Middle East. Worst of all, I was guilty of optimistic indifference, the illogical belief that somehow good will triumph even if no one lifts a finger to help.
But good doesn’t always win, does it? The Chinese survivors of Tiananamen Square can testify that the democracy and people power don’t always defeat machine guns and tanks.
People of Iran, I apologize for all the Americans who will all make sorts of excuses why we should do nothing to help. Some will say that we have no right to intervene because we overthrew your government in 1953. It’s a peculiar argument that says someone who committed a crime in the past has no right to stop a rapist from assaulting a woman right now. These people are willing to indulge their guilt trip with your blood.
Some Americans will make the excuse that intervening will make things worse for you. But we all know that the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij thugs will shoot you down in the streets regardless of whether we show restraint.
Finally, some will argue that there is nothing we can do to help. But what they’re really saying is that helping you is inconvenient for us. The Revolutionary Guards get their money from oil revenues. They get their weapons from Russia. For all their rhetoric, they need the world as much as the world needs their oil.
The U.S. can’t make your revolution happen. But what the U.S. and the world can do is impose a cost on your oppressors. We can impose an economic embargo, freeze diplomatic and cultural ties, and provide communications so your message can get out despite the censorship. It’s not much, and it probably won’t convince all of your rulers that it’s time for change. But some might get the message that conducting repression-as-usual has become a lot more expensive.
But I apologize, because I don’t know if America will do this. In which case, your revolution might be crushed, and then all the Americans who made the excuses for doing nothing will shrug and mutter that it just wasn’t meant to be. But that’s just another excuse.