The Editorial Board
Wall Street Journal, Jan. 3, 2018 - Anti-government protests continue across Iran after six days, and the ruling mullahs and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are threatening a crackdown that could get ugly.
The world should support this fight for freedom, which is exposing the illusions about Iran that dominated the Obama Administration.
Start with the claim that signing a nuclear deal with the Tehran regime would moderate its behavior.
Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s chief foreign-policy salesman, said in June 2015 that “a world in which there is a deal with Iran is much more likely to produce an evolution in Iranian behavior, than a world in which there is no deal.”
Mr. Obama said the pact “could strengthen the hands of more moderate leaders in Iran.”
And Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Colin Kahl said in 2015 that the Iranians “are not going to spend the vast majority of the money on guns, most of it will go to butter.”
Toward that end, the nuclear pact lifted international sanctions and unfroze $100 billion in Iranian assets.
Yet instead of using the money to improve the lives of Iranians, Tehran has used its windfall to back clients making trouble throughout the region.
The mullahs have spent billions propping up Syria’s Bashar Assad with troops, weapons and energy shipments.
Iran funds Shiite militias in Iraq, Hezbollah terrorists in Syria and Lebanon, and Houthi fighters in Yemen.
The protesters in the streets of Tehran, Qom, Shiraz and other cities are explicitly rejecting this adventurism, shouting slogans like “Leave Syria, think of us!” They want a better economy and more opportunities for their children, not campaigns to build a Shiite empire across the Middle East.
Another busted illusion is that there is a difference in policy between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the supposedly moderate President Hasan Rouhani.
Mr. Rouhani talks about listening to the protesters, but that will last only until the Ayatollah gives other orders.
The Rouhani government has responded to the nuclear deal by arresting democracy advocates and taking American hostages like Xiyue Wang, a Princeton PhD student, and father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi.
The protesters are making no distinction between Mr. Rouhani and the mullahs.
The demonstrations have also exposed the illusion peddled by Mr. Rhodes that President Trump’s more muscular policy toward Iran has united the regime with the Iranian public in opposition to the U.S.
The ire of the protesters is aimed at their own rulers for corruption and wasting what they were told would be the fruits of the nuclear deal.
Mr. Trump, the supposed foreign-policy bumpkin, understands this better than Mr. Obama and the arms-control sophisticates.
Mr. Obama sought to win over the Tehran regime by avoiding confrontation and letting Iran have its way in Syria and elsewhere. His goal above all else was the nuclear deal.
Mr. Trump, by contrast, has distinguished between the regime and the Iranian people, much as Ronald Reagan did with the Soviet Union.
In speeches over the past year, the President has called out the regime for stirring up foreign trouble and subjugating its people.
“The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change, and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most,” Mr. Trump told the United Nations in September.
“This is what causes the regime to restrict internet access, tear down satellite dishes, shoot unarmed student protestors, and imprison political reformers.”
Mr. Trump’s tweets since the protests began may not be Obama-smooth but they have put America on the side of the people, rather than the regime.
This rhetorical support matters to those in the street, and Europeans and Democrats in Congress should join the chorus.
The U.S. can also provide technology to help Iranians get around the regime’s internet firewall and censorship. And it can raise the cost of Iran’s interventions around the Middle East.
Iranians will have to earn their own freedom, but Americans can help by admitting that this isn’t a fight between moderates and “hardliners” or Tehran vs. Trump. It’s a fight between people who want liberty and their oppressors.