“A group of Iranian dissidents for the first time openly called on their government to suspend uranium enrichment, in an open letter published Monday that adds to the momentum of the international effort to convince Tehran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons program,” the Wall Street Journal reports:
The current deadlock over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and empty power play will set the stage for war and the people of Iran will have to pay the price,” said the letter….
The open letter published Monday was signed by 175 expatriate dissidents, and was endorsed and publicized by a student activist website inside Iran, Daneshjoonews, suggesting it had supporters in the country as well.
Ali Afshari,* a student activist now exiled in Washington who helped write the letter, said the draft was seen and approved by prominent activists inside Iran, but they refrained from signing their names in fear of retribution….
“We are calling for Iranian people to make halting the nuclear program a priority just like human rights and democracy,” said Mr. Afshari. “There is no reason for the public to pay the price of the government’s mistakes.”
“There is no country in the Middle East where the gulf between rulers and ruled is greater,” said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week’s speech to the National Democratic Institute. “When Iran claims to support democracy abroad, then kills peaceful protestors in the streets of Tehran, its hypocrisy is breathtaking and plain to the people of the region.”
But the Obama administration and other Western democracies may be failing to take advantage of the regime’s vulnerability by more actively engaging and supporting Iran’s democratic opposition, analysts suggest.
“While the Congress has funded such efforts, and the US has created a series of programs that aid Iran’s external and internal opposition,” a recent analysis notes, “the US role in seeking regime change in Iran is sometimes exaggerated, as much by Iran’s regime as Iranian and US advocates of regime change.”
“The fact remains, however, that the Iranian regime has made itself increasingly vulnerable to such US efforts and they can hardly be ignored,” says a report from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The danger with “trying to instigate a ‘Persian Spring’ is that overt U.S. support for opposition could make regime opponents a bigger target and allow the regime to claim outside interference, rallying Iran around a more authoritarian government,” writes Patrick M. Cronin, a senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the nonpartisan Center for a New American Security.
But the Obama administration has few other alternatives, given the failure of its twin-track strategy to convince the Islamic Republic’s leadership to give up its nuclear ambitions, according to Kenneth M. Pollack, director of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy and Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writing in the latest issue of the Washington Quarterly.
The administration’s carrot-and-stick policy combined various incentives and disincentives to induce the regime to change its approach. But the strategy failed, Pollack and Takeyh suggest, because it was predicated on a false assumption: that Iran’s leadership formulates strategy and makes decisions on the basis of a rational cost-benefit calculus, when the fact is that the regime is ideologically-driven and as such implacably opposed to compromise.
They cite a largely overlooked speech last summer by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei which rejected any prospects of constructive engagement.
“‘The change of behavior they want and which they don’t always emphasize is in fact a negation of our identity . . . Ours is a fundamental antagonism,’’ he declared.
“The politics of resistance and nuclear empowerment offer Iran a means of affirming its revolutionary values and preserving the last vestiges of the regime’s legitimacy,” Pollack and Takeyh note.
A former senior adviser on Iran at the State Department, Takeyh was an advocate and architect of engagement, but the regime’s failure to respond to US overtures and its suppression of the Green opposition effectively killed the strategy, he has said.
“As a distinct ideological entity, the theocratic regime requires an argument to convince its cadre that the regime’s repressive tactics are justified and in the service of a higher ideal,” they write. “The measure of success of the Green Movement is the damage that it has done to this argument, to the raison d’etre of the current Tehran regime.”
The regime’s faces domestic opposition from Kurdish, Baluch, Arab, and other dissident groups, but support for the Green Movement will be a “critical component” of any new strategy:
Today, there are many opportunities to connect with Iranian activists. Iran is a land of labor protests and political demonstrations. The challenge is to establish ties, overt or covert, with important trade unions and student organizations that already have a national network connected through social media outlets. Clerical dissidents of all sorts should be induced to condemn the moral shortcomings of the Islamist regime, while efforts should be intensified to provoke a stream of defections from Iran’s nuclear industry and diplomatic corps. An attempt to systematically hollow out the Islamist state should be one of Washington’s top priorities.
The Islamic Republic is “terrified of losing control over information technology, and equally terrified that that same technology will provide an avenue of attack for its enemies,” Pollack and Takeyh contend, so “a certain route to help the Iranian opposition and hurt the regime lies in the overlapping areas of Internet freedom and cyber warfare:”
The United States and its allies should look into providing readily accessible, redundant means of communication (both overt and covert) to the Iranian opposition. The more that its members can be enabled to speak freely, the more the Iranian public and the world will be able to hear their message, and the better they can shake the foundations of the regime. Likewise, the more that the success of the Stuxnet virus, which is believed to have badly impeded Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, can be replicated, the better.