Thanks to Intensified Sanctions and Domestic Protests, Iran’s Regime Is Weak. The U.S. Should Seize the Opportunity

August 6, 2018 | Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh
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Last week, massive anti-government demonstrations swept through major Iranian cities as well countless smaller locales, showing that the protest movement that began in December is far from over. Iran’s economy, meanwhile, is in dire straits. Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh explain why it is in America’s interest to help bring an end to the Islamic Republic, and suggest how Washington can help:

First-worlders, [some would argue], shouldn’t politically interfere in Muslim societies. But a serious glance at Iranian history ought to tell us the opposite: that we shouldn’t treat Iranians any differently than we treated Poles under Communism. . . .

A lot is known about the Iranian ruling elite’s corruption, inside the country and abroad. . . . We should see a steady stream of reporting on corruption, via the Internet and the Persian services of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe–Radio Liberty. Washington has never let loose the bully pulpit—the White House, Congress, and the foreign-affairs and intelligence agencies together—in favor of democracy in Iran. From the president down, the administration should speak often and clearly on America’s intention to support Iranians fighting for free elections. . . .

Ideally, Washington should [also] try to shrink the Islamic Republic’s imperial frontiers, especially in Syria. That is obviously going to be difficult, if not impossible, for post-Iraq America. Containing and rolling back the theocracy’s [sphere of influence in the Middle East] is important for undermining its power at home—in the same way that reversals for the Soviets abroad spiritually and materially weakened Moscow. The regime sees its mission civilisatrice as much abroad as it does at home. Denying the regime foreign accomplishments can’t but thin its morale and make the regime’s frontline forces—the Revolutionary Guards and the Shiite foreign legion—question their leadership if not the cause. . . .

The Islamic Republic today is a weak, wobbly regime barely surviving successive domestic headwinds. The regime is still adhering to the [nuclear deal] because it cannot afford another shock to [its economic] system. . . . If the mullahs cannot muster a response to President Trump’s affront to the regime’s dignity, it’s because the ruling clergy and the Revolutionary Guards don’t know what they should do. They appear deeply uncertain about how aggressive actions against the United States will reverberate inside a society that has grown more openly hostile to its rulers. It is striking that the clerics and the security establishment have so far dared not do what they have so often done with their lower-class supporters: orchestrate large demonstrations in Tehran denouncing America and its president. The Islamic Republic appears to be so unpopular with its own people that the regime cannot even demonize Donald Trump.

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