After five nights of courageous demonstrations in Iran—where protesters faced the prospects of beatings, torture, or worse—Iranians seeking freedom from an oppressive regime once again found an ally in President Bush. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the President’s own State Department.
Speaking to reporters from the Bush family vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine, the President said that the protests are “the beginnings of people expressing themselves toward a free Iran, which I think is positive.” This is in keeping with past statements, where Bush has expressed solidarity with the majority of the Iranian population that wants the very freedoms that millions of Americans often take for granted, not the least of which being the right to choose their own government.
Technically speaking, Iran has elections—but they are no more “democratic” than those that used to be held in the old Soviet Union. The country is dominated by an unelected cabal of twelve mullahs, known as the Council of Guardians. The panel vets all candidates for President and Parliament—including the so-called “reformers”—and has the authority to veto any legislation enacted by the legislature. What power they don’t have rests in the hands of the unelected “Supreme Leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who controls the military, the police, the press, the judiciary, the oil industry, and most corporations that trade with the West.
Amazingly, the U.S. State Department’s number-two official, Richard Armitage (contact), told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year that Iran is a “democracy.”
Using the “democracy” line as fig leaf cover, State has been pushing for “engagement” with the mullahs. The professional diplomats there claim that talks with the current regime will actually empower the so-called “reformers” within the government. To the extent there are true reformers in the government, though, they have precious little actual power. Since every “reformer” that is inside the government is only there because the mullahs granted approval, “most of the ‘reformers’ actually support the existing power structure,” notes an administration official.
Until May 12—the date of the al Qaeda bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that may have been connected to cells operating openly inside Iran—State had been carrying on talks with the Iranian mullahs. The substance of the talks may have been rather limited, insists an administration official who says, “State was kept on a pretty tight leash.” But the substance was not the sore point for those inside and outside the administration who support Iran’s burgeoning freedom movement; the fact that they took place at all was the problem.
“Engaging” leaders in any way is a tacit acknowledgement of legitimacy, particularly when their very basis for rule is being challenged from within. The Iranian regime is one that has done almost nothing to redeem itself since President Bush named it a member of the “axis evil,” as the mullahs continue to oppress the Iranian people while at the same time actively pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. Some estimates cited in a Washington Post story Sunday are that Iran could have nuclear weapons as soon as 2006. The mullahs, though, could actually obtain nukes sooner than that. “It would be 2006 if Iran received no outside help whatsoever,” notes an informed source.
The thousands of protesters willing to stand up to the mullahs and their thug enforcers gives the U.S. an opening to undermine the oppressive regime. When a similar opportunity presented itself last year, however, State stayed mum—it didn’t want to “anger” the mullahs. On July 9 last year, thousands of protestors marked the three-year anniversary of a brutal police crackdown on peaceful demonstrators at Tehran University. When asked if the U.S. had any message for the students protesting the mullahs, State press flack Richard Boucher responded simply, “No.”
Thankfully, the President did not care about angering the mullahs, and on July 12, Bush issued a strong endorsement of the demonstrations—a move that was vociferously opposed by State. He concluded his statement with the following message of support: “As Iran’s people move towards a future defined by greater freedom, greater tolerance, they will have no better friend than the United States of America.” If only State wanted President Bush’s vision to become a reality.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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