American secretary of state Hillary Clinton suggested in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Monday that Iran is sliding into a military dictatorship. The country’s Revolutionary Guard, she said, is gaining influence “across all areas of Iranian security policy, and certainly nuclear policy is at the core of it.” The United States propose sanctions therefore, specifically aimed at disrupting the Guard’s ascension.
The country’s sinister “Guardians of the Islamic Revolution” are far from a unified bulwark however. Maziar Bahari reports that “fractures are now present within the security establishment itself, and some of the Islamic Republic’s most ardent defenders are now pushing the regime to moderate its position.”
Reportedly, senior Guard commanders have began quietly urging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to change his ways. “The group includes several powerful sitting officials,” notes Bahari, “such as the mayor of Tehran and the speaker of Parliament.” These men are politely pressing Khamenei to muzzle his fiery acolyte, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. So far, there’s been no sign that Khamenei is willing to listen. “But when the shah started ignoring his advisors, the result was revolution.”
Revolution has certainly taken to the streets already. Ever since the presidential elections of June 2009, Iran has been rocked by protests. These demonstrators, according to Robert Kaplan, “are not crazed ethnics demonstrating on behalf of some illiberal blood-and-soil nationalism, but enlightened, technologically savvy multitudes crying out for universal values of democracy and human rights.” For that reason, they deserve Western backing.
Kaplan agrees with Clinton that the country’s regime is “less and less a religious theocracy […] and more and more a traditional dictatorship, beset by a feisty and innovative opposition.” Regime change therefore, is inevitable — and “would unleash democratic tendencies throughout the Middle East,” forcing governments in all of the region to focus more on their internal problems, thereby undermining radicalism.
The Islamic Republic might well last another decade however so what can the United States do to expedite regime change? The Obama Administration’s policy of “Nixonian détente” appears to have failed so the president, claims Kaplan, must be more like Reagan: “be open to far-reaching talks, as President Ronald Reagan was with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, but do nothing to legitimize the Iranian system.”
Make it clear that Washington is on the same side of history as the demonstrators, but also make it clear that the door is open to negotiations with those in power.
To avoid the risk of endangering the protests by providing overt American support, President Obama should talk about democracy only in general. “That is, he should get the language of universal values out over Iranian air waves as much as possible: encouraging the demonstrators without specifically backing them.” That, suggests Kaplan, is the best America can do right now to undermine Iranian dictatorship.