Nearly three months have passed since Iran’s bloody crackdown on the mass protests over the controversial June 12 presidential election. The Obama administration, however, has yet to determine a strategy to support the first serious challenge to the regime since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Last week’s statement by Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — that he saw no proof the British or the West were behind the protests — should encourage the United States to pursue a more assertive approach to support Iranians working for change. Nevertheless, the State Department’s Iran Democracy Fund — currently the only tool available for promoting democracy in Iran — has been extremely cautious in its funding decisions since President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Moreover, recent changes to the program are neutralizing its effectiveness, even as arrests and prosecutions of those accused of plotting “velvet revolutions” continue throughout the country.
The Iran Democracy Fund, launched by the Bush administration in 2006, has been controversial from the beginning, and has faced myriad crosscutting pressures that have nearly succeeded in shutting the program down. In a surprise move by the Bush administration, the fund was awarded $75 million through a supplemental budget request for Iraq and Afghanistan for the 2006 fiscal year. According to then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, the funds would be used to “reach Iranian… >>>