Strike Now At Mullahs’ Economic Pillars

July 21, 2009

IBD    22 June 09

by Chuck Devore

As we watch the swelling protests in Iran, it’s worth remembering that the aspirations of America are eminently compatible with the aspirations of the average Iranian.

I know a bit about this, as I am privileged to represent one of the largest Iranian-American communities in the country, in Orange County, Calif.

The compatibilities between Iranian hopes and the American dream center on the yearning for individual liberties and the end of clerical autocracy — hopes as compelling to the Iranian democrat today as the Jeffersonian democrat two centuries ago.

The question is whether President Obama will do anything about it.

The basic points of pressure on Iran’s clerical autocrats are simple: the control of petroleum, the need for foreign cash, the reliance upon the instruments of force, and the control of internal communications. All remain the material pillars of the regime.

Its psychological pillars are a bit more complex: Iranian resentment at foreign interference, Shia exceptionalism and a peculiar concept of Islamic juridical rule known as velayat-e faqih.

It is possible for the president to strike at the material pillars of the Iranian theocracy, while sparing the psychological pillars that might turn the mass of Iranians against us.

Though hardly a friendly society by most standards, the few American tourists to visit Iran have generally received a warm welcome. (Indeed, PBS travel-show fixture Rick Steves has been on the lecture circuit about this for a few years now.) The Iranian regime is assuredly America’s long-standing enemy, but the Iranians at large do not harbor a unique hatred for the United States.

What, then, should America do to support Iranians’ hopes for liberty? Any policy response must proceed on twin tracks of empowering the Iranian democracy movement, and striking at the mullahs’ material base.

Empowering the democracy movement in Iran demands sensitivity and creativity on the part of American policymakers. Fortunately, that movement is self-motivated, self-organizing, and technologically savvy — and thus needs no outside assistance in the provision of ideas, energy or enthusiasm.

What it does need are the tools to render itself an effective mass rather than an inchoate mob. Above all, that means channels of communication and intellectual capital.

Enough ink has been spilled on the remarkable role of social media, and especially Twitter, in maintaining momentum for the Iranian protests. Less noticed is the active interest that the State Department has taken in keeping those channels open for the benefit of the protesters.

Earlier this week, State reportedly intervened with Twitter to delay a scheduled service outage till nighttime in Tehran. This is practical and meaningful assistance, and the Obama administration should be doing much more of it.

Striking at the mullahs’ material base is more straightforward. They need legitimacy and foreign trade to sustain an economy that totters along with rising unemployment that approaches 15% — an ominous figure in a country where about 70% of the citizens are under 30.

Iran has the world’s third-largest oil reserves, yet it had to impose fuel rationing on its own citizens in 2007, and its economy is extremely vulnerable to lower oil prices.

It’s no accident that civil unrest in Iran, as in so many countries, erupts when material expectations of a young and comparatively educated citizenry are unmet by a corrupt and inefficient government. Though not a proximate cause, this is surely among the root causes of Iranian discontent now.

With this in mind, crafting a strategy to squeeze the machinery of repression would be an exercise in the sort of multilateral diplomacy in which the Obama administration takes such pride.

Of the major recipients of Iranian oil, the top four are Asian economies and the remainder European nations plus South Africa.

Though it is unrealistic to assume that the United States could persuade all of them to forgo Iranian oil, we don’t have to: Any one of the Asian nations, or a few of the European nations (building upon the European Union’s admirable vigor in condemning repression in Iran), would do tremendous harm to the mullahs’ coffers.

Beyond this, we know from experiences with Zimbabwe and North Korea that targeted sanctions against specific regime figures — for example, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, presently being feted in Russia — are remarkably effective in harming the architects of tyranny while sparing their victims.

So much for what the Obama administration should do. What will it do, and what has it done? Nearly a week into this crisis, the sad answer is: Very little.

Other than the State Department’s reported intervention with Twitter, and a few late and tentative statements from the president himself, America’s moral leadership, in a cause that directly affects us, is remarkably absent.

A president who rose to power on a self-proclaimed wave of hope owes the hopes of an oppressed people more than his silence.

• DeVore is an assemblyman representing California’s 70th district, including Irvine, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. He is also a candidate for the U.S. Senate.


One comment

  1. Speaking of politics…
    Abraham Lincoln recently told all about his one on one basketball game with Ahmadinejad at…


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