October 26, 2007

What Do Iranian Democrats Want?

We have argued in the US for outreach to Iranian activists for democracy as a means of ending the mullahcracy and stabilizing the Middle East. Many of us feel that the US has not done nearly enough to bolster the disaffected Iranian people who have more affinity to the West than most of the rest of the peoples in the region. The Bush administration has proposed sending money to those who work to end the oppression of the mullahs and their front men in the government.

Not so fast, says one of the men on the front lines of the struggle. Akbar Ganji, an Iranian journalist and dissident, writes that American cash will discredit the dissidents. What they need is American moral and media support to get the truth to the Iranian people:

Of course, Iran's democratic movement and civil institutions need funding. But this must come from independent Iranian sources. Iranians themselves must support the transition to democracy; it cannot be presented like a gift. Expatriate Iranians can assist the transition. Many of the social prerequisites of democracy exist in Iran today, but dollars cannot produce the bravery or love of freedom that individuals need to make the transition possible.

So here is our request to Congress: To do away with any misunderstanding, we hope lawmakers will approve a bill that bans payment to individuals or groups opposing the Iranian government. Iran's democratic movement does not need foreign handouts; it needs the moral support of the international community and condemnation of the Iranian regime for its systematic violation of human rights.

What else does the pro-democracy movement in Iran want?

The Iranian government is using technology it has purchased from Western companies to block Web sites and otherwise keep Iranians from using the Internet. The West has profited at the Iranian people's expense by selling these technologies to Tehran. The regime's extensive censorship and media hegemony must be ended. We want the Iranian people to have access to the Internet and free television to be able to hear criticism of the regime's policies and learn about alternative models of government.

In the column, translated from the original Farsi, Ganji makes clear that negotiations with the Iranian regime won't help. It establishes them even more as legitimate and it damages the morale of those who work to rid Iran of oppression. In the end, a negotiated settlement won't work anyway, Ganji says, because despotic regimes simply don't keep their word.

On the other hand, he doesn't want American bombs raining down, either. All that will accomplish is the radicalization of the Iranian people, setting democracy back even further. He objects to the increasingly hostile position of the US, saying it plays into the hands of the mullahs. They need a bunker mentality to keep the people from rising up against them, and the US has provided them with the excuses they need to perpetuate that state of mind.

Instead, we need to start helping them communicate and organize to get the truth to everyday Iranians. That means allowing them to get past the censorship shamefully enabled by Western companies on the Internet. The West could assist them in establishing an independent media system to compete with the mullahs, which would allow free and fair reporting both into and out of Iran. This prescription should have been followed all along, and certainly needs to start immediately.


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Comments (21)

Posted by Ron C | October 26, 2007 5:25 PM

It's a little (perhaps a lot) too late to start talking about non-military solutions on Iran when that nation is installing nuclear tipped missiles aimed at US allies and military.

Posted by The Mechanical Eye | October 26, 2007 5:40 PM

Ron C:

That didn't stop us from talking to the Soviets for decades after they had actual warheads -- by the thousands -- directed at the United States directly, never mind its allies. The Soviet Union had possessed nuclear weaponry of some sort since 1949, yet that didn't stop every Cold War president since Truman from talking to them. Are you suggesting Truman was soft on communism?

That the Iranians might possibly have a single vaporware missile possibly aimed at Israel in 10 years doesn't preclude a non-military solution.

No one except the crazier elements of the Iranian regime and some American neo-conservative actually wants war. It is very, very far away from "too late."


Posted by Del Dolemonte | October 26, 2007 5:45 PM

Besides improving the Iranians' internet access, we should also be making better use of the Voice of America's Farsi service, both on radio and TV.

Unfortunately, that's easier said than done, as Pajamas Media discovered:


"Neo-conservative" = the Left's "N" word for the 21st Century.

Posted by exhelodrvr | October 26, 2007 6:34 PM

In re to the pajamasmedia.com: Of course, if the majority of the Iranian population feels that marginalizing the minorities is appropriate (I'm just guessing that is the case, based on what seems to be typical in that part of the world) then the majority will be irritated by VOA broadcasts that are aimed at those minorities. If we get too concerned about fixing everything that we think is wrong with the culture of Iran, we'll get nothing done. That has been part of the problem in Iraq.

Posted by John Steele | October 26, 2007 6:41 PM

It's way too late for a destabilization/regime change campaign. The mullahs have insinuated themselves at every level of society and especially among the children. The IRGC is too big, to powerful and too fanatical for a coup to remove them now. Regime change may have worked 10 years ago but its way too late for that now.

Posted by Tom W. | October 26, 2007 7:14 PM

So what if bombing Iran radicalizes the Iranians? If they're so stupid and primitive that they'll react like apes and rush to support the very people who are oppressing them, then they weren't reliable allies in spreading democracy anyway.

The Iranians need to man up and bring down the government themselves, as the Romanians did, suffering heavy casualties in the process. Unarmed, unorganized civilians took on tanks with their bare hands, and they won. But they were willing to spill their blood, unlike the Iranians.

If the Iranians don't take care of the problem, we'll have to eradicate the Iranian threat ourselves.

Iran is already at war with us. Stop worrying about the Iranian population and start worrying about our troops, Captain Ed.

If your son were serving in Iraq and had to face Iranian EFPs and Iranian-backed terrorists, wouldn't you want the military to take decisive action to neutralize the threat? General Petraeus has said that he can't guarantee success in Iraq unless Iran is forced to stop meddling.

Make a choice: Who do you want to protect, our troops or the Iranians?

Finally, we heard the same crap about Iraq. If we attack Iraq, the country will rally around Saddam. Well, it didn't, did it?

Posted by Carol Herman | October 26, 2007 8:42 PM

Ya know, while Laura Bush dons a burka; a gift on her recent visit to the saud's and their cousins; it dawns on me that Irak has, so far, cost us $3-trillion.

Seems an expensive bill to just remove Saddam's head.

(Look at Israel. Assad still has his head. Which is NOT what James Baker wanted.) Then? Israel tells the Americans that evidence exists in the syrian desert; that Assad's going into the nuke business.

Words go to Israel, to cancel their July 6th operation. Because Bush suddenly feels "very diplomatic."

Olmert waits. A "work accident" occurs on March 23rd. While the syrians are loading a scud with mustard gas. It goes off. (No. Not by flying away, first. But by blowing up. And, killing all those "medal winners" who were around. And, watching. Body bags collect the dead, only after the clean up crew dons special gear.)

So, from this, we'd discover Israel is taking care of business. In a small way. She's NOT in on the ground in syria! Or lebanon. Heck, you can put all the lipstick on the pigs; Israel is not looking for marriage. Or even a tourist destination.

WHile Olmert doesn't say a word.

And, Rice is now reduced to asking Jimmy Carter for "halp" in getting her Annapolis show off the ground. (It lost it's appearance date. Because when Rice was in eygpt, mubarak slipped her a note. The saud's don't want to come to America.)

So? Laura goes to them. And, gets fitted out for her own burka.

Don't laugh.

It hurts too much.

Posted by Corky Boyd | October 26, 2007 8:46 PM

Playing a waiting game, not threatening the regime, nor going to war would work in a normal scenario. In this case there is a time limit. The equation changes when and if Iran demonstrates it has become a nuclear power. After that moment, we operate from a position of weakness and they from a position of strength.

Covert aid is always an option and I am sure it is going on now. We aren't talking arms and destructive items. We are talking communications gear so pro democracy elements can communicate with each other without tipping off the government. We are talking printers and computers. We are talking about enough money to move and place people where they are effective. It's about getting effective student organizations in place and coordinating their efforts for maximum impact. It's about buying people in the power structure. It's about assets.

The only time to provoke an uprising or coup is when you have a decent assurance of success. Witness the uprising of the Shias after the first Gulf War. It failed miserably and they still blame the US for the bloodshed.

You need the infrasructure before the heavy hauling takes place.

Posted by MRM | October 26, 2007 9:04 PM

War doesn't run on moral support alone. Granted, it helps, but without money and resources, you're sunk. Especially if you're rebelling against an authoritarian government that couldn't give a crap about your morale and is willing to crush warm fuzzies from your uncommitted friends with guns and tanks.

Posted by MRM | October 26, 2007 9:05 PM

In other words, if these people think they can pull a Ghandi or MLK with a fascist theocracy, they'll go the way of those poor monks in Burma, or the students in Tiannemen square.

Posted by M. Scott Eiland | October 26, 2007 9:33 PM

We can't wait forever for the Iranian democracy movement to fix things, any more than FDR and Truman should have refused to bomb Japan on the theory that at least some of the Japanese public must have despised the militaristic SOBs running Japan during WWII. If they want change, they should do something to try to make it happen--meaning putting their own skins on the line--or they'll have to understand that at some point we're not going to set aside our interests and those of our allies to coddle them any more if they refuse to act.

Posted by Eric Classic | October 26, 2007 9:44 PM

I think that we should definitely hear what this man is saying. It certainly rings of truthful advise to me. I believe it describes some of the actions that our government is currently taking. We are not meeting with Iran directly. We are trying to cut off the trade of the foreign companies that trade with the current regime. And finally, we have thus far resisted military action.

So far, we are largely in check with his request.

Will we be able to stay in check? That’s a tough question. Should we resist military action, or are our impulses right? That’s another tough question.

Do we believe Washington more so than his expert advise? I certainly do, no offense intended to Mr. Akbar Ganji, but for the most part, we have to concede that we beat the USSR at this game a few years ago. With this said, we should hear him and study his opinion. I believe that his advise is honestly offered, and I think he is a potential friend of our nation, and more so, a true Iranian patriot.

Posted by Eric Classic | October 26, 2007 9:58 PM

Tom says:
The Iranians need to man up and bring down the government themselves, as the Romanians did, suffering heavy casualties in the process.

Eric says:
A lot of truth here in this statement. If memory serves me, the United States has lost more lives in it’s two domestic wars (the revolutionary war and the civil war) than all wars combined, each. So that gives us a very commanding understanding of the cost of freedom that is lacked by a lot of other nations.

Now understand – we had a little help from the French in the first one (the revolutionary war.) It’s not out of the question to think that we might offer assistance to Iranians who want to get this job done.

As for Mr. Putin and Russia and their recent comment concerning Iran, I have one very reserved word for them, which I try never to use, but which seems appropriate – go fuck yourself Mr. Putin.

Russia can make a bad decision today if they choose to – that’s their call. I made a call of my own a few months back concerning Mr. Putin and Russia – I bought a Hybrid car. I talk about it to anyone that will listen. In about two years, GM will introduce an electric car, and I’ll trade in for that.

I want all of you to go out tomorrow and buy your hybrid. Please do it.

Posted by Ledger1 | October 26, 2007 11:46 PM

I have to agree with Tom W.

It’s time we halt the killing of our fighting men by Iranian weapons and operatives. It’s clear that Iranian government and its proxies are trying to kill Americans in Iraq and eventually control Iraq. That has been a long standing goal of Iran for years.

I disagree with the WaPo. In fact, when taken as a whole the WaPo recommends no action of any help to American interests.

The Iranian government has made clear its plans to wipe Israel off of the map. Those words should not be taken lightly coming from a nutcase who thinks he is talking directly to god.

It would be nice if the Iranian people took up arms and rid themselves of the tyrants at the top. But, that is not going to happen any time soon.

Although, repugnant to some on the left, I am of the opinion that ether covert or overt military action against Iran’s supply lines and other facilities will be the only thing to modify Iran’s behavior.

The killing of our troops must stop.

Posted by the fly-man/bong boy | October 27, 2007 6:49 AM

Yeah, Neo-Con the new "N" word for the 21st century; Not elected, Never served, Nut jobbed, Nabobs. Why are we even having this conversation? This has been planned from day one. I just can't wait for Egypt to start developing their own Nuclear program. Then what are we going to do? Sorta like that ClusterF#!k that has come to fruition between the Turks and the Kurds. I'm confused if you all are for the well being of our troops how come the Webb amendment wasn't supported by the right?

Posted by carol h | October 27, 2007 7:34 AM

Tom W: I have a son just finished a 15 month deployment in Iraq, if all goes well he will be home early next week. My nephew leaves for a 15 month deployment in late spring, he has already been in Afghanistan. My son has faced IEDs, morters, rockets, machine gun fire, was hospitalized twice for intestinal illness (walking through raw sewage) and lost friends. If we attack Iran he will face it all over again but worse. As DU says, we faced a nuclear armed Soviet Union for 50 years and prevented the destruction of civilization through mutuality assussed destruction. Having lived through the cold war I find Iran a very unscary country.

Carol H, not Carol Herman.

Posted by Dean Esmay | October 27, 2007 8:39 AM

During the 1980s, the U.S. government provided CLANDESTINE, COVERT AID to Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement. This was kept top secret, and wasn't even revealed until the mid-1990s, by the Clinton administration.

If any American $$ are going to help resistance in Iran--and I frankly would be disappointed in the extreme if none are--then we would not and should not know about it, as the people receiving the aid would quickly be dead or in jail, not just discredited.

Posted by Rovin | October 27, 2007 9:43 AM

Carol Herman,

Why do you continually suggest that this nation's relationship with the Saudis is some BIG SINFUL SECRET? We've been arming and trading with the Sauds for a few decades now, (yes, because they supply us with a flow of oil), but you're always short to suggest we sever these ties. YES, we are all aware that the 9/11 hi-jackers came from this region and may have been tolerated by the Saudi Kings, but please explain to me how you think we should "handle" the Sauds? Could we have handled Gulf War 1 without the locations afforded our military? Is it possible when the attacks by al-Qaida on Saudi Arabia in 2003-04 LINK, there may have been a "reckoning" with the Royals who suddenly felt very vulnerable?

On 28 April 2004 a statement attributed to an al-Qaida leader who is Saudi Arabia's most wanted man yesterday warned that the terrorist group intended to launch "fierce" attacks against Jews, Americans and western interests in the Middle East. The statement by Abdulaziz al-Muqrin was broadcast over the internet. He denied that al-Qaida was behind a suicide bombing in Riyadh that killed five, but applauded it as a punishment for the Saudi regime. The statement said: "The Jews, the Americans and crusaders in general will remain the targets of our coming attacks and this year, God willing, will be fiercer and harsher for them. And the apostate Saudi government will be incapable of protecting their interests or providing security for them."

Is it possible these events may have forced the Sauds to look to us for a little more than an oil transaction? The Sauds very well may have been playing both ends of the "stick", but I would submit that when they saw our capabilities in Gulf War l and the three week thumping on Iraq, maybe, (just maybe), they decided they don't want to play with al-Qaida anymore, transparently or covertly.

Should the Saudi’s pay for their tolerance and complicity that led to the events of 9/11? Most certainly. Are they reminded of these “sins” that led to this travesty? I have not forgotten. Are we being complicit in “turning the other cheek” and continuing to maintain a relationship that stabilizes rather than conflicts? Good moral question. Has Iran been totally blind to ALL of these events?

Respectfully, just askin'

(sorry for the "slight" O/T Mr. Morrissey)

Posted by dave | October 27, 2007 9:58 AM

Another option would be to talk to them. The Iranians were ready for this in 2001 when they wanted to exchange some Al Qaeda members connected to a bombing in Saudi Arabia (which killed 7 US troops) for MEK terorists that were in US custody in Iraq. These talks could have led to a "grand bargain", including settlement of issues such as Iran's nuclear program and support for Hezbollah and Hamas. The US said no, preferring to support the MEK terrorists instead. Similar talks were proposed by the Iranians in 2003, which the US again ignored. The US is not interested in solving problems non-militarily. They instead prefer to support terrorist groups to help destabilize governments.
You talk about Iranian censorship (Iranians get most US news outlets on the Internet, however), but when Flynt Leverett tried to wite an article about the talks I referred to above, the US miltary censored most of it. It was printed in the Times anyway, mostly as a lot of this: "XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX". But we don't have censorship, right?

"The Iranian government has made clear its plans to wipe Israel off of the map."

Find someone who knows Farsi, and have them translate this:

صفحه روزگار محو شود

It does not mean "wipe off the map". The quote is a fabrication.

Posted by Bearster | October 27, 2007 2:39 PM

Good article and good point about American welfare subsidies not being helpul.

I want to point out one issue. There is no connection between the threat of American bombs falling and the would-be democracy movement. The bombs have to do with the mullah's hell-bent desire to obtain nuclear bombs combined with their warlike and apocalyptical rhetoric.

If the nascent democracy movement in Iran wants to move forward without American bombs falling on Iran, then it has a short window of time in which to act.

Posted by Terrye | October 27, 2007 4:10 PM


The First Lady did not "don a burka", she accepted a gift from her hostess.

Now maybe you think she should have told them to shove the modesty scarf or whatever, but the point of her trip was to bring awareness to the issue of breast cancer among the women of the Middle East.

She was being gracious and it is just plain petty to make an issue of something like that. Really it is.

And as far as the Sauds concerned, I do not know of any American leader who wants to mix it up with the Royal family. Oil is at $90 a barrel right now and the truth is if we took those people out they are not going to be replaced by Methodists anyway.This whole Bush loves the Sauds thing is just ridiculous considering the fact that not one American president has ever made an attempt to make an enemy of them.

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