of foreign intervention
Iran's democratic movement could be significantly
harmed by hawkish US policies
June 18, 3003
Patrick Clawson, Director for Research, at the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy, recently wrote an analysis
with regards to recent developments in Iran and US policy. I
have written few words
I would like to share them with you. In many respect I concur with
Clawson's analysis of the recent developments in Iran. However,
I disagree with him on the form of US pressure on the Iranian regime.
I agree with Clawson in that whether it's US presence in
Iraq or the intensity of people's frustration with the regime
and the slow pace of eforms, the student movement has regained
a momentum that is not going to subside soon without a major
breakthrough in the current political stalemate. Indeed, there
are already sings of major new developments that can be summarized
1. There are reports that the Guardian Council has sent twin
reformist bills back to Parliament for modification.The same report
the Council may have reversed its opposition to
the bills that would give President Khatami new powers and reduce
the Council's vetting role -- in one form or anther.
may indeed accept to limit role
in the Constitution
stop vetting candidates for elected offices.
If this happens, parliament's doors may be opened
to secular factions, such as the National Front, to participate
in next year's general elections.
This is in addition to Ayatollah
Khamenie's speech asking vigilante groups not to interfere
with student demonstrations, as well as the Minister of
the Interior's announcement of the government's intention to
arrest and prosecute militant groups. Indeed, in Mashhad they did
arrest their leader.
All and all, there is increasing evidence that a
new round of compromise by the hardliners has started. And, as
I have argued before, if let alone, this process in conjunction
US and EU policies, may take us to a point where a freely elected
Parliament could revise the Constitution and peacefully remove "Velayate
Faghih" as the linchpin of the Islamic Republic's theocracy.
2. An open letter to Khamenie by more than a hundred members
of Parliament is a clear indication of the determination of a
large number of representatives
back by threatening to resign. Indeed, they did not attend a recent
meeting with Khamenie. As The Guardian reported, "reformist
MPs working within the system are focusing on gaining support for
a referendum on reducing the powers of clerics and even towards
separating mosque and state."
3. The parallel struggle by the students and secular forces has
certainly been strengthened by two major outside forces and developments.
One is the psychological and emotional impact of US presence
in neighboring countries. Another is the growing influence
and popularity of satellite TV broadcasts. How could the US
keep up pressure on Iran without harming the democratization process?
On this, I significantly disagree with Clawson and the neo-cons.
Clawson argues that "no Iranian action has been as provocative to U.S.
policymakers as those associated with Iran's nuclear program. U.S. policy thus
far has been to delay developments in the program in the hope that the hardliners
will lose control before Iran 'gets the bomb'. That scenario could
still unfold, but the window of opportunity is closing with the program's great
progress. The 'optimists' maintain that Iran may not have a nuclear
weapon for another three to four years; others believe the time frame is shorter.
Regardless, Iran's nuclear program is developing with a momentum that will
have to be reversed soon if it is to be stopped."
Contrary to Clawson,
I believe, the US should not sharpen her differences with Iran on this
aspect of her complaints, the WMDs that is. Emphasis on Iran's
nuclear ambitions, as the prime of reason to pick on the regime
increase pressure on Tehran, does
not really help the cause of the democratic movement or long-term
US interests in the region.
There is a consensus, and a
lively debate among all factions of the opposition, on the issue
real need for nuclear power as a source of energy, and nuclear
weapons as a deterrent in a region infested with such weapons.
This issue can be debated and resolved internally. Therefore,
excessive US pressure on this issue may backlash and allow hardliners
to find support and legitimacy in their
anti-US rhetoric. The US could obtain more cooperation from
Iran by lowering her rhetoric on WMDs and quietly solve
the problem in a multilateral setting and through the IAEA.
There is a significant, substantive difference between those,
like me, who see virtue in keeping up US pressure in support
of the gradually
flourishing democratic movement in Iran, and those who try to find excuses
for one or another form of military invasion of Iran.
We have to be careful
when advocating pressure on Iran. If by
pressure we mean military aggression, we are certainly helping
the cause of the hardliners. If we are blindly supporting the monarchists,
we have helping the hardliners. If we mean increased economic
sanctions, like current bills by Congressman Brad Sherman in
the House and the "Iran Democracy Act" by
Senator Brownback in the Senate advocating reinstating sanctions
removed by the Clinton Administration, we are helping the
It is a matter of consensus among economists that
sanctions often contribute to the emergence and growth of monopolies
and corruption that benefit oppressive tyrants.
The masses will turn out to be real victims and losers of this
power play. But, if by pressure, we mean adhering to the fundamental
American values of respect for freedom, democracy, pluralism, human
civil rights, and to reiterate
our determination to prosecute those who violate human rights, then we are
helping the cause of reformist and democratic movement in Iran.
I may sound too optimistic, or outright naive, to ask the current
to focus on issues that concerns human rights in Iran, or anywhere else
in the world.)
I further appreciate Clawson's recognition of the significance
of massive revolutionary movements such as the Constitutional Revolution,
the Tobacco Movement, and the Oil Nationalization. I would,
however, like to remind him of the fact that those very significant
popular movements were crushed by British and Russian imperial
or by admitted
wrongful US interventions.
Therefore, since the demise of the Safavid
Dynasty, foreign interference has cast a heavy and dark shadow
on an otherwise internally determined socio-political process
in Iran. And, consequently
the country was brought to a point where its people were often
associated with hostage taking, violence, and terrorism in the
eyes of world public opinion.
There is certainly little awareness in the international community
that as much as the Iranian people are the victim of their own
cultural deficiencies, they are a victim of repeated foreign invasions
interventions in their internal economic and political affairs.
There is an overwhelming consensus among various leaders of the
reformist and secular democratic movements that the Iranian political
struggle should be resolved by people from within and
that foreign invasion, or threat of invasion, would only deter
and slow down this process.
US occupation of Iraq and satellite broadcasts by
US-based TV stations have had positive psychological effect.
But they have not been fundamental factors
in the rise of reformism or other anti-establishment democratic
in the country. The causes of such massive democratic
demands and pressures are the very same that ignited the
first stage of the Iranian revolution against the Shah and the
US for its reckless support of his oppressive policies against
The 1979 Revolution was a massive revolution comparable to the
French and Russian revolutions. Its first stage was completed twenty-four
years ago by the fall of the Shah, but its second stage started
with a sense of self-reflection, a much deeper and more comprehensive
understanding of the internal social, cultural, technical, and
political shortcomings and contradictions.
came as a result of people's illusions about the potentials of
deeply-rooted Islamic values and teachings, advocated by intellectuals
such as Ali Shariati, Morteza Motahari, and Jalal Al-e Ahmad.
In addition there was the opportunistic domination and monopoly
of power by the clerical establishment. Absence of alternative
institutions and organizations to fill the post-revolutionary
power vacuum, a prolonged war with Iraq, and mistakes by the
Mojahedin Khalgh and other leftist organizations, further
The foot solders of the first stage of the 1979 revolution were
students and the urban poor, later joined by almost all other sections
of the population, unified against the dictatorial
rule of the Shah. The same students are now intellectual leaders
inside and outside the country who are going to be inspiring and
leading the foot soldiers of the second stage of the revolution,
the young generation, the students, some of whom were born
after the revolution.
Armed with new information technology and aided by a relatively
open post-revolutionary intellectual and political environment,
the new intellectual leadership's distinguishing characteristic
is that their vision of a free, democratic, and prosperous Iran
is backed by their rich understanding of the past political history
of their country. They see the redundance of notions such as "Islamic
Democracy" or "Jaame-ye Tohidi" (classless
Islamic society), and recognize the pitfalls of relying on
and interventions and the inner workings of the international politics,
as well as the significance of world public opinion.
going into further sociological analysis, I am simply trying
to point to the nobility and genuineness of the current democratic
movement which could be significantly harmed by incoherent, hawkish,
or inappropriate US policies.
In conclusion, I believe the US should lend support
to reformist members of the Iranian Parliament. By acknowledging
their heroic efforts, they can be brought closer to the secular
democratic movement, who are becoming increasingly alienated from
Khatami. One should not forget that people tend to trust those
leaders inside the country who stand by them and fight the
battle alongside them, rather than those seasoned
and brought in from
Again, I believe the US could quietly pursue its concerns
on WMDs, but also sharpen its focus on violations of human
and democratic rights by the hardliners.
Mehrdad Valibeigi is a professorial lecturer of economics at the
American University in Washington, DC.
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