I'm ashamed of myself. I haven't written a word about Iran in years, and Iran may be the most important story no one is talking about.
I shouldn't say no one. Michael Ledeen, my colleague at National Review Online and the holder of the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, has been writing about Iran with a constancy his fans call Churchillian and his enemies call deranged. Ledeen is convinced, as are numerous Iranian activists and exiles, that Iran is poised for a democratic revolution.
Tehran, the nation's capital, as well as several other cities have been wracked in recent days with widespread anti-government protests and violent crackdowns by government forces. Buildings have been set ablaze, and exiles are calling for revolution. According to reports on Activistchat.com, a Web site dedicated to freeing Iran from the oppressive rule of the mullahs, numerous protestors have been killed. Ledeen - who has many sources inside Iran and out - reports that the roundups and executions of young men have picked up at a terrific pace. Iran has staged 120 public hangings since March alone, according to the government's own news agency.
The unpopularity of the mullahs, primarily with the younger, Western-oriented generation, is causing panic inside the regime. The appeal of revolutionary theocracy has been bled dry. The Christian Science Monitor reported - some would say "reluctantly reported" - that discontent with the regime and a desire for "change" according to various "polls" equals 90 percent. And we all remember those famous soccer games where Iranian fans chanted "USA! USA!"
Even if this weren't such a powerful human interest story, it would still be appalling how completely the mainstream media have downplayed what could be one of the most important news stories of our lives. If Iran were to throw off the shackles of the mullahocracy in favor of anything like a sane, decent and democratic regime, it would be the most significant advance for freedom and decency since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It would be a national security victory of staggering proportions.
So here's why we should all be ashamed we haven't paid more attention to this situation: The only way Iranian regime change will ever come about is if we - Americans, Europeans, the West - want it to. By ignoring the story, the press is in effect lending its support to the corrupt theocrats ruling Iran. One can't help but think this story is particularly inconvenient to those who think no good could ever come, even as a partial result, of the president's foreign policy.
That's especially the case for our enemies and "friends" in the Middle East who are invested in the continuation of tyranny, terrorism and the status quo. It's not that the Iranian Shiite regime is particularly popular with Arabs or Sunnis or its neighbors in general. But the collapse of that theocracy at the hands the Iranian street would deal a crippling blow to Islamists everywhere, proving that what normal Muslims want is freedom, prosperity and normalcy, not righteous totalitarianism.
Moreover, Iran is Al-Qaida's best friend - and probably the Iraqi insurgency's, too. The Iranians have been sowing discord in Iraq since before Saddam's ouster, and an end to their mischief would go a long way toward stabilizing Iraq. It would also have a profound teaching effect on the entire region that democratic change is inevitable and that everyone should get onboard the freedom train.
There's no end to the potential upside to a democratic transition - even a bloody one - in Iran. The Iranians could no longer give safe harbor to leaders of Al-Qaida or support terrorist attacks on U.S. interests. And, oh yeah, it might stop Iran from procuring nuclear weapons.
It may be necessary to use military force to remove the nuclear threat from the Iranians, but it would be a colossal mistake for America to see the nuclear issue as the only thing driving American policy - or, for that matter, to regard military force the best tool of American policy. Critics of the Bush Doctrine and the Iraq war complain, almost entirely disingenuously, that Iran and North Korea were bigger threats to America than Iraq. That's debatable at best. What is irrefutable, however, is that Iraq was an easier target than either Iran or North Korea.
When the rebels attacked the Death Star in "Star Wars," there was a reason they attacked at the battle station's weakest point. Iraq was the Axis of Evil's weakest point. The hope for many of us was that toppling Saddam would set off a chain reaction that would bring the whole thing down.
That can still happen. Critics who lament "instability" in the Middle East miss the point entirely. Instability - the right kind of instability - is exactly what we want. The signs are that the Iranian regime is coming apart. Whether it's inches or miles from the tipping point is impossible to tell. But what is obvious is that without the West's active pressure on the mullahs, and even more active support of the freedom fighters, the tipping point may never come.
So please, start paying attention. I will.
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