We are in a perfect storm with Iran. We don't merely have a single event to concern us as regards Iran, but rather a multiplicity of events all converging at once. Iran is within months of crossing the nuclear threshold. Israel cannot afford to allow Iran to create a nuclear arsenal - and for that matter, neither can the West. Everyday that Iran continues its rush to a nuclear arsenal, most other nations in the Middle East, virtually all of them incubators of muslim extremism in one form or another, are also pursuing nuclear weapons out of self defense. At the same time, the Iranian regime is on the verge of a revolution. But it is a largely leaderless revolution, and there is no single individual whom we can bank on to emerge as the head of a new Iran if and when the theocracy falls. Perhaps Mousavi, but it appears ever more that events have passed him by. It truly is a perfect storm from from which any of countless possible realities could emerge, many of which would be inimical to our interests. It is time, to paraphrase from Invictus, that we engage in this matter and become "masters of our fate."
The Washington Post, in an editorial today, takes stock of the past week of protests and joins the chorus of calls for Obama to decisively support revolution in Iran:
ONE WAY or another, Sunday's Ashura holiday in Iran probably will be a turning point in the struggle between an extremist regime and an increasingly radical opposition. . . .
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei clearly is betting he can defeat the opposition Green Movement with brute force. In the past week, security forces have attacked peaceful mourners at the funeral of dissident Ayatollah Ali Montazeri and violated the tradition of restraint associated with the Ashura holiday. The predominant chant in the streets, meanwhile, has shifted to "death to Khamenei" or "death to the dictator." More street protests can be expected when the movement's new martyr, Ali Habibi Mousavi Khamene, is commemorated.
In short, Iran's political crisis now looks like a battle to the death between the regime and its opposition. No one on either side in Tehran is talking about compromise. . . . [M]ore than ever, the Obama administration and other Western governments must tailor their policies toward Iran to reflect the centrality of the Green Movement's fight for freedom. While diplomatic contact with the regime need not be broken off entirely, by now it should be obvious that it cannot produce significant results -- and might serve to shore up a tottering dictatorship.
President Obama shifted U.S. Policy . . . Monday . . . with an admirably strong statement that condemned "the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens" and called for "the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained."
There is, however, more that could be done to help the Green Movement. Russia and non-Western nations should be pressed to join in condemning the regime's violence. Sanctions aimed at the Revolutionary Guard and its extensive business and financial network should be accelerated; action must not be delayed by months of haggling at the U.N. Security Council. More should be done, now, to facilitate Iranian use of the Internet for uncensored communication. The State Department continues to drag its feet on using money appropriated by Congress to fund firewall-busting operations and to deny support to groups with a proven record of success, like the Global Internet Freedom Consortium.
The administration has worried excessively that open U.S. support might damage the Green Movement. Now President Obama has publicly taken sides, and the battle inside Iran has reached a critical juncture. It's time for the United States to do whatever it can, in public and covertly, to help those Iranians fighting for freedom.
The Washington Post has it right. It is time – actually long past time – for Obama to weigh in decisively and on multiple levels to support the revolution in Iran. Besides those things enumerated by Wapo, there are a host of other things that Obama needs to put in motion to support the regime. For example, Obama stripped all funding for the programs promoting democracy in Iran when he took office. He needs to refund those programs, particularly Radio Farda which ought to play a major role in getting news into Iran, both about the outside world and about events occurring inside Iran that the regime wants silenced.
If Obama were smart - and indeed, thinking of his legacy - he would embrace this option with all the fervor with which he has pushed health care reform. It is something that would, I believe, have bipartisan support. And if the revolution succeeds after he has thrown full U.S. support, then Obama's legacy will be cemented in stone. Whatever else he screws up, he will be the President who helped bring an end to Iran's evil theocracy and the President who moved the Middle East much closer to stability. It would, at a stroke, end a highly significant portion of terrorism around the world. It would remove from Hamas and Hezbollah their primary source of funding.
The joker in the deck, if you will, is that the revolution needs time to flower, if it ever will. If Obama does nothing else, time may soon run out. Iran sits on the cusp of crossing the nuclear threshold and, by Israeli estimates, will have a nuclear weapon by 2011. Israel, threatened near daily with destruction by the Iranian regime, has every justification to go to war with Iran to stop the Iranian regime from making that weapon. If Obama is going to fully support the revolution, he needs to buy time from Israel. Obama would need to provide the Israeli government with guarantees that the U.S. will underwrite the missile defense of Israel. Obama needs to further guarantee that the U.S. will, with Israel, jointly conduct that attack on Iran's nuclear sites if and when it appears that Iran's revolution will not succeed. Indeed, if need be, the U.S. should go so far as to publicly put Israel under its nuclear umbrella. For if and when the first bombs strike Iran, war will have begun. We will almost assuredly be drawn into it. And the chance to end all of this through a revolution will have ended.
In short, it is time for Obama to truly engage with Iran's revolution. He needs to set a course through the perfect storm.
Update: What Obama should not do is heed the advice of the NYT editorial board:
President Obama is right to remain open to dialogue with Iran and to continue looking for a peaceful resolution to the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. He is also right to condemn the violence against Iranian civilians . . .
The government still appears to have firm control of the main levers of power, including the brutish Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia. . . .
The Iranian people are demanding what all people have a right to demand: basic freedoms, economic security, and the knowledge that their government is committed to protecting, not killing its citizens.
These people are as out of touch with reality as they were when they called the Iraq War lost during the height of the surge. If they think that the government is firmly in control, they have not bothered to read their own paper's reporting of the events of last week. If they think the Iranian people are demanding mere "basic freedoms," they are completely misreading how these protests have evovled since June. If they think that Obama's main concern should be to keep an "open dialogoue" going with the barbaric and illegitimate government - the same government that has essentially given Obama the one finger salute over the past months - they are utterly insane. What they counsel is not a search for a "peaceful resolution" to this madness. To quote Milton fron Paradise Lost:
Thus Belial with words clothed in reason's garb
Counselled ignoble ease and peaceful sloth, not peace.
The counsel of the NYT would lead us to war, sooner or later. Our best chance for peace, indeed our only one, is to move decisively in support of the revolution.