An uncritical reader of the major U.S. newspapers and journals of opinion could be forgiven for expecting the people of Iran to rally around the flag after recent American retaliatory attacks on their country’s military positions in Iraq and Syria. Indeed, enormous crowds turned out in Tehran for the funeral of Qassem Suleimani, the general killed in one of those counterattacks—although many of those present undoubtedly were cajoled or forced into attending. But what followed instead were mass demonstrations against the mullahs, as David Patrikarakos and Rashad Ali write:
[Protestors] chanted, in clear voices, for the end of the regime: “America is not the enemy,” they roared. “The enemy is in Iran.”
For now, the regime appears to have backed down from repression and mass murder. It is rattled. And well it should be. Despite the dangers to their own lives, Iranians are making it clear that the regime—and not the “Great Satan”—is the oppressor of the Iranian people. They have called not for death to America but rather for “death to the Islamic Republic.”
What comes next will be critical. The world’s eyes are on Iran. This has almost certainly stopped the regime from once more massacring people in the streets. How long this forbearance will last remains unclear. . . . But if one thing the last year in Iran has made clear, it is that people will not stop.
President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have made statements reassuring Iranians that they stand with them. Trump even tweeted [to this effect] in Farsi, [in what] is reported to be the most widely read tweet in Persian-language Twitter. Will this statement of solidarity result in genuine, tangible support with meaningful consequences for the regime? Consistency is not a virtue one associates with Donald Trump. But now is the time not for mere rhetoric but for substance. We owe it to the people of Iran.