Some people have practically accused me of being a neo-con imperialist because I advocate U.S. support for the Iranian protesters.
Let me be clear. Sending in the Marines would be stupid. But so is ‘tough shit, let the protest movement sink or swim on its own.’
So what can the U.S. do? We can provide communications facilities so the protesters can get their message out to the world, and more important, get their message out within Iran. We can offer refuge to dissidents when the police hunt them down. We can tighten economic sanctions, because the regime isn’t going to survive without oil money. Most of all, we can make clear that while the regime can impose repression, there will be a cost. That may not sway the diehards, but maybe – just maybe – it will sway a few bureaucrats and generals who fear losing what power they have. Nothing we do will be decisive for the reform movement. The Iranian people will have to free themselves. But our support might provide the tipping point.
We don’t have to “impose” this assistance. We can offer it. They can refuse it, but perhaps they won’t. Because maybe – just maybe – being shot down in the streets or hunted by the police will make the demonstrators a little more amenable to help from the Great Satan. Politics makes strange bedfellows. So does a prison cell.
In case I haven’t made this clear, I don’t believe that this protest movement will survive on its own, because the mullahs have created an internal security system that’s not going to fall apart. And in case anyone hasn’t noticed, there are a quite a few regimes – think China or Myanmar – that have proven quite adept and quite ruthless at surviving popular protest.
I believe it’s in the U.S. national interest to support the protesters, because Ahmadinajad and his Revolutionary Guards with nukes will result in a very bad outcome for Iran and everyone else. I believe it’s in the Iranian people’s interest if we can help, because life in a theocracy-under-threat won’t be pleasant. The two are not mutually exclusive. The U.S. and the Iranian people can both benefit. Maybe our relationship needs to get out of the “I win, you lose” mode that has poisoned our relations for 50 years.
Which brings us to the final question. Do the Iranian people want our help? This protester did.