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Iran on the brink

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Chronicle: How to support the Iranian people and stop an Iranian bomb

Protesters in Iran / Reuters

Matthew Continetti • September 23, 2022 5:00 am

Unforeseen events have created a crisis of legitimacy within the Iranian regime. For the third time in 13 years, mass protests directed against ruling theocrats have erupted across the country. The unrest is an opportunity for the US President to speak directly to the Iranian people and tell them that America is on the side of freedom. President Biden, the microphone is yours.

“Today, we stand with the brave citizens and brave women of Iran who are demonstrating right now to secure their basic rights,” Biden told the United Nations General Assembly on September 21. His words of support are welcome. But there is still much to say and do.

For those of you tuning in: Iran has turned off the cameras monitoring its declared nuclear sites. Its nuclear centrifuges spin and spin. Its agents plotted to assassinate, on American soil, a former American national security adviser and former Secretary of State. Last month, the decades-old fatwa of Iran’s former supreme leader, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, inspired a 24-year-old New Jersey man to stab author and US citizen Salman Rushdie at 10. times at a public event in Chautauqua, New York. Last month, Iran sent its first shipment of drones to Russian forces. The invaders and occupiers of Ukraine have used weapons.

These latest protests began after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in state custody. The “morality police” had arrested and detained her for the crime of wearing an “inappropriate hijab”. Widespread disgust at official explanations and apologies for Amini’s cruel and senseless death has led to hundreds of Iranian women burning their own hijabs. Iranians of all persuasions march through the streets in defiance of the authorities. Some call for the end of the Islamic Republic. As of this writing, at least seven protesters have been killed. The government is working to shut down social media and electronic communications. The crisis is real. It has the potential to threaten the regime itself.

Why? Because the disruption comes at a critical time in the sad and bloody history of the Islamic Revolution. The state that emerged from that revolution in 1979, the Islamic Republic, is facing both a leadership crisis and a demographic transition just as negotiations on reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), aka Iran nuclear deal, have reached an impasse.

These are not the actions of a state that will give up its nuclear ambitions and be integrated into the “international community”. These are the actions of a mad state whose main export is not energy but terrorism, violence and death. The malignity of the Iranian government extends beyond the nation’s borders, that’s for sure. But its first victims are the Iranian people. They are the first to bear the economic, social, cultural and physical costs charged to the regime. Their discontent is the clearest register of the regime’s criminality and the most visible sign of its decadence.

The overlapping challenges for Iran increase the fragility of the regime. Hence the best course of action for the United States: end our nuclear negotiations with Iran, restore “stimulus” sanctions, restore a credible military threat, and demand that the Iranian government recognize the rights of the man and the dignity of the Iranian people.

Ayatollah Khamenei is 83 years old. He is not in good health. Yes, he has made a few public appearances in recent days. But the few images we’ve seen of him don’t exactly project the strength. As is the case with any authoritarian regime, its cronies and toads must vie for the position in anticipation of its ultimate demise. If so, then there must be an environment of confusion and uncertainty at the highest levels of the regime.

The cries of Iranian youth for personal freedom have undoubtedly added to the disarray. There are 88 million Iranians. Half of the population is under 32 years old. They are led by a grizzled and ossified clergy who funnel resources into their private army, the terrorist Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Mahsa Amini represented a generation of Iranians who want more than the limited options, cruelty and state-imposed religion that have been available to them for 43 years. That is why she has become a symbol for all those who disapprove and oppose the hard line of the mullahs.

A push from the United States would make all the difference. There is no better time for a change in American strategy. The nuclear deal is going nowhere. Accepting Iran’s most radical demands at the negotiating table would make America look weak, stupid and insensitive. Give in to Khamenei as he murders his citizens and supplies Russia with weapons to use against the Ukrainians? The stomach knots at the idea.

If the current turmoil was a test, Biden answered the first question correctly. He hasn’t finished the exam yet.

The two previous American CEOs did not adopt it. In 2009, President Obama remained silent as students took to the streets in the so-called Green Revolution. In 2019, President Trump delivered mixed messages as Iranians rebelled against government corruption and economic mismanagement. Obama did not want to jeopardize his plans for detente with the mullahs. Generally, Trump’s personal foreign policy has downplayed human rights and democracy. Crippling sanctions were his weapon of choice.

The motivations of the two presidents differed. The results were not. In both cases, the regime used brutal means to survive the upheaval. And Ayatollah Khamenei continued to build his nuclear infrastructure and wreak havoc in the region and the world.

Draw the line here. US officials say they have made their final offer to Iran. Good. The Ayatollah rejected it. Now America must also reject it. Isolating and punishing the Iranian regime for its malign behavior abroad and its oppression at home would further American interests in the Greater Middle East. It would undermine one of Russia’s few allies. And that would help the Iranian people in their struggle to put their government where it belongs: on the ash heap of history.