What is happening in the streets of Iran’s cities is as significant as the street demonstrations that brought down the Soviet Union and almost toppled the government of China. Completely internal and spontaneous responses to last year’s fraudulent national elections, the protests are a testament to the will of the Iranian people for liberty. The demonstrators have withstood intimidation, arbitrary arrests, beatings and other thuggery. The leaders of the protest movement have been imprisoned, beaten, subjected to show trials and some have had relatives murdered. Over the weekend, in a move reminiscent of the Chinese government’s 1989 massacre of student protestors in Tiananmen Square, police opened fire on Iranian demonstrators, killing ten. Yesterday’s The Washington Post observed that “Iran’s political crisis now looks like a battle to the death between the regime and its opposition.”
How many more must die before the United States and the West say stop? Where is the will to act against political oppression and state-sponsored murder that NATO demonstrated when it went into the Balkans to stop the murderous Serbian state and its ethnic allies? We still remember President Kennedy’s “Ich bein ein Berliner” and President Reagan’s “Tear down this Wall” speeches. What have we heard from President Obama? The answer is nothing. The Administration’s effort to appear non-threatening to Muslims really threatens to make it irrelevant to what may be one of the most important political dynamics to affect both the Middle East and Islam since at least the Ataturk revolution in Turkey early in the 20th Century.
Moreover, the administration’s reticence even to comment on events in Iran is doing nothing to change that country’s intransigence on the subject of nuclear proliferation. Just yesterday it was reported that Iran had completed a deal to import over 1,000 tons of refined uranium ore from Kazakhstan. It would appear that the President’s effort to bridge the political gap with the regime in Teheran has done nothing to further the U.S. security agenda while also making this country look feckless in the face of a political and human rights tragedy occurring in Iran.
To use a somewhat trite phrase, we are approaching a tipping point with respect to Iran. The President will be forced to seek tighter sanctions on Teheran. That is likely to cause the hard line regime to become even more recalcitrant while simultaneously emboldening the opposition. Faced with increased internal opposition and foreign pressure the Iranian government is likely to strike out. The Grand Ayatollah Khamenei has spoken about killing those who oppose the dictatorship of the mullahs. Could the White House stand by in the face of the wholesale slaughter of Iranian protestors? I hope not.
It is also possible that if they feel their control slipping, the hard liners will seek to provoke a confrontation with the United States and its allies in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. government needs to be prepared to act militarily to prevent the possible murder of hundreds, even thousands of innocent Iranian demonstrators and, if the worst happens, to prevent Iran from starting a war in the Persian Gulf.
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