It doesn’t require the services of a nuclear scientist to know what the latest protests in Iran are all about. Like all people, Iranians want freedom, economic opportunity and a future for their children. Those aspirations peaked during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, culminating in the Green Revolution of 2009. Although brutally repressed by the regime’s security apparatus – the all-powerful Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps – the protestors didn’t disappear, they went underground.
There was always hope in the Obama Administration that the autocratic regime in Tehran would moderate its policies – both at home and abroad – if provided the right incentives and if “reformers” were supported from the sidelines. The recent popular uprising in Iran should be cause for reflection.
In 2009, President Obama chose to remain silent about the protests, preferring instead the path of “quiet diplomacy.” That policy resulted in the Iran nuclear deal – a temporary suspension of Iran’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for billions in sanctions relief and new business investments.
Leaving aside the many flaws of the deal itself, Iran policy under the Obama Administration did more harm than good, emboldening an oppressive regime and increasing its ability to fund terrorism and other illicit activities around the globe. On the domestic front, Iran’s record on human rights remains abysmal.
Iran continues to remain a world leader in executing its own citizens. The regime’s ongoing and routine use of torture is well documented. Widespread arbitrary detentions, sharp limits on freedom of assembly, expression, and religious belief, and discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities are all common practices.
One of the main sales pitches by the Obama Administration for the nuclear deal was the expected benefit to the people of Iran. It was hoped that easing sanctions would open Iran’s isolated economy and improve the quality of life for all Iranians. In turn, reformers would be empowered to pursue a policy of peaceful change from within.
Sadly, the anticipated benefits never materialized.
Instead, the hundreds of billions of dollars that have flowed into Iran have been spent on Iran’s violent activities abroad and its ballistic missile development program – in defiance of U.N. Security Council Resolutions. The regime has also used the deal to shield itself from international criticism. European states have signed lucrative business deals with Iran and, in turn, have responded with moral ambiguity to the unrest in Iran, calling on “all sides” to show restraint.
Beyond the obvious push back against a repressive dictatorship and economic hardships, the Iranian people have focused their attention on Iran’s funding of terrorist groups abroad. One slogan heard during the protests was, “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, I Give My Life for Iran”. This is a reference to the large sums of money Iran pays to support its client terrorist organizations – Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In response to the recent protests, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, called an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council during which she said, “The Iranian people are calling out, ‘Think of us!’ The people of Iran are crying out for freedom. All freedom loving people must stand with their cause.”
Ambassador Haley’s statement is a welcome breath of fresh air and the Trump Administration’s support for the protesters represents exactly the kind of renewed leadership we need on the international stage.
Leaders in the Middle East demand strength and persistence. Global American leadership demands that we support freedom from tyranny—especially when people are dying in the streets opposing a tyrannical regime whose foreign policy is based almost exclusively on the twin pillars of “DEATH TO AMERICA” and “DEATH TO ISRAEL.”