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Monday, June 15, 2009

The Stakes on Iran Couldn't be Higher

We are entering day three of violence in Iran. There is both violence and even death being reported. Yet, the protesters remain undaunted and forceful. The opposition candidate, Hussein Mousavi, made an appearance in front of a rally of thousands that defied a government order not to organize. Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeni has ordered an investigation of the election results. So, it's safe to say that the situation remains fluid.

Back in 1991, under the encouragement of then president, George HW Bush, the Shia in Iraq were encouraged to rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein. They did but with little outside support their uprising was crushed. All too often in totalitarian regimes, uprisings are crushed and then that leads to a consolidation of power, internally, of the ruling power structure. That's what happened in Iraq.

The blueprint for a successful uprising lie in the examples of the Ukraine and Georgia. In both those nations, the ruling class had a much weaker grip in power than the Mullahs do in Iran.

Still, right now the situation is spinning so far out of control that soon no one may have a grip on power. We are living in a new age and the revolution in Iran is now being brought to you by Twitter. The revolutionaries are communicating with each other and the outside world by that microblogging site. So far at least, the Mullahs are unaware of its power and it hasn't yet been shut off.

This revolution can go either way, and its results will have ramifications for geopolitics for decades. Israeli intelligence believes that these protests will die out unless they receive significant support from the outside. If the Mullahs are able to put down the protests, restore order, and arrest most of those responsible for organizing them, then their grip on power will be strengthened not weakened. Those seeking freedom and democracy in Iran will be weakened not strengthened. With a stronger grip on power, they will be that much more free to continue to pursue provocative acts in the Middle East.

It is moments like this that clearly show that when dealing with a despotic regime, the only proper policy is regime change. Had that been our policy since the 1970's, we would have had the communication lines in place with many of the folks working behind the scenes to organize these demonstrations. The demonstrators would also know that the U.S. would be behind them should they attempt to overthrow the government from within.

The revolutionaries need both the financial and organizational support from both within and without Iran to maintain these protests until the government is finally taken down. It's difficult to get either from within a totalitarian state. (though the twitter phenomenon proves not impossible) Developing that support network from without takes years of cultivation. That's what years of a policy of regime change would have done.

Ultimately, this revolution could wind up benefiting most of the world if most of the world simply encouraged it. The leaders of the world are hesitant to use any language that is too strong or risk breaking diplomatic protocols. That's because the rest of the world has engaged in a diplomatic strategy of engagement. Had regime change been the prevailing policy among the U.S. and its allies, this revolution could very easily be turned into a total takedown of the government. Since it isn't, this could now go either way, and the ramifications couldn't be larger.

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