Is the extremist agenda of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - including support for terror, development of nuclear weapons and confrontation with the United States and Israel - popular among Iranians? Are they willing to make the sacrifices that would come from an increasingly tight global boycott imposed because of Iran's defiance of United Nations strictures on its nuclear development?
A rare glimpse into the minds of the Iranian people - via a telephone survey of Iranians conducted for Terror Free Tomorrow - shows that the answers to both questions is "no!"
Apparently, Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs are in serious political trouble. Iranians do not much care about getting the bomb and very much worry about global isolation.
The survey shows:
* Iranians oppose the institution of an "unelected Supreme Leader" by 61-27 and favor democracy by 79-14. So when liberals assail neocons for having a naive faith in peoples' aspirations for freedom, they are just wrong - even in Iran.
* Iranians want nuclear power more than nuclear weapons. Suffering under gasoline rationing and falling energy exports, three-quarters said that developing nuclear power, without weapons, was "very important." By contrast, only 37 percent said developing nuclear weapons was a similar priority. Since the Iranian regime says that it wants nuclear power, not nuclear weapons, its stated position accords with its people's views. (The government, of course, is lying and wants to get a bomb.)
The survey underscores the need to separate nuclear power from weaponry in the mi nds of the people and make clear that Western sanctions are designed to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, not power or energy.
* Iranians would gladly agree to "full inspections and a guarantee that Iran would not develop nuclear weapons" if other nations would increase overall trade and investment (80 percent), increase investment in the energy sector (79 percent), give humanitarian assistance (80 percent) or assist in helping Iran develop peaceful nuclear energy (80 percent).
* Only 33 percent said supporting terrorist proxies Hezbollah or Hamas was a priority, and 55 percent are ready to endorse full recognition of Israel and of a Palestinian state if they could get "normal trade and full recognition" from the United States. Almost two-thirds - 64 percent - said that they are willing to end Iranian assistance to armed groups in Iraq and 51 percent would forgo nuclear weaponry and accept full international controls and inspections in return for normal relat ions with the United States.
These data emphasize the importance of a Western willingness to bring Iran in from the cold in return for a no-nuclear-weapons agreement. The palpable thirst of the people for an end to their isolation speaks volumes about the attractiveness of such a proposition.
* The government in Iran gets dismal ratings. By 52-33, Iranians feel Ahmadinejad has failed to cut unemployment or inflation; by 56-22, they say he has not kept his campaign promise to "put oil revenues on the tables of the average family."
But does this all matter? Do the opinions of the Iranian people count in this dictatorship? Clearly, they do. The data point to a potential for revolution should Iran's global isolation increase. People are fed up with living in a pariah state and want normal relations with the rest of the world - even if it means abandoning their leaders' extremist agenda.
Thus, the recent actions of Florida, Missouri and Louis iana in cutting off all pension-fund investments in companies that do business in Iran takes on particular importance. Their nation's global isolation clearly grates on the Iranian people and stokes their fears and disenchantment with their government.
Divestment legislation is making good progress in Pennsylvania (shepherded by state Rep. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat) and in California and New Jersey. In New York, unfortunately, the Legislature adjourned without taking any action. Divestterror.org, an organization founded by Frank Gaffney of the Reagan Pentagon, is leading these battles.
The Louisiana action is particularly important. The state law - sponsored by state Rep. Pete Schneider, a Republican - authorizes the governor to contract with Wall Street firms to develop a terror-free investment index of companies and mutual funds in which the state can put its pension funds. Once such a fund is developed, the potential for it to become the gold standard for disinvestment i s enormous.