The Bazaari Revolution of 2019 in Iran may have commenced, and America must act wisely. In 1979, when Iranian clerics overthrew the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the administration of President Jimmy Carter was taken unawares, having acted ineffectively to encourage the shah to quell dissent through domestic reforms.
A revolution resulted along with the seizure of the U.S. embassy with 66 American hostages. Thirty years later, when thousands of young Iranians confronted the illegitimate elections in Iran during the 2009 “Green Revolution,” President Barack Obama failed to grasp the opportunity to stand with Iranians seeking freedom and to undermine the terror mullahs. Never mind Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons.
Disregard the fact that Iranian metastatic terror had spread throughout the Middle East. Forget Iran’s complicity in the death of hundreds of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, killed by Iranian-inspired and enabled improvised explosive devices. For Mr. Obama, none of that was our business. Thankfully, President Donald Trump is more realistic.
To date, the president’s approach on Iran has been firm but cautious. He has implemented punishing sanctions and wisely increased the U.S. military presence in the region. When Iran destroyed a U.S. Navy drone in an unprovoked attack over the Strait of Hormuz, he resisted overreaction — one posed to launch — over concern that doing so might exceed a proportional response.
He has quietly galvanized the international community to oppose Iran’s aggression in the region, although our European partners have been slow to rally, clinging to the hope of future economic deals with Tehran. Most importantly, the president has assumed a diplomatic tone that embraces the Iranian people while also declaring his willingness to negotiate with Iran’s leadership if they manage to come to their senses. The mullahs won’t, but the Iranian people may.
Iran’s terror mullahs are facing an existential threat. They have heaped suffering on their people for years by spending vast sums of money on nuclear and missile proliferation and hegemonic military ventures across the Middle East, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Now their Yemeni adventurism threatens to flare into open war with Saudi Arabia after Iran’s attack of a major Saudi oil complex in September, an action Iran attempted to place at the feet of Yemen’s Houthi rebels whom Saudi Arabia is fighting. Iran’s leaders — including their Gestapo-like Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — have terrorized their own people for decades. Now their behavior has resulted in crippling U.S. sanctions that are crushing Iran’s economy.
The Iranian people are irate and revolution is in the air, one fueled more by oppression than recently reported gasoline price increases.
A Thermidorian Reaction — like the French counterrevolution of 1794 — is in the offing. The Iranian people, particularly the Bazaari merchant class, are thoroughly unhappy. Iran’s tyrants are ripe to be overthrown. How should the president respond? The answer involves some caution.
First, don’t repeat the mistakes of past U.S. administrations in dealing with Iran. Iranians haven’t forgotten the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) 1953-inspired coup that overthrew their beloved Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and imposed on them a Shah that the mullahs overthrew 26 years later. The president should not overreact with another CIA-orchestrated coup. The people of Iran alone must be seen as overthrowing their tormentors, not the U.S.
Second, the president must reinforce his threefold and consistent message of avoiding war, standing firmly with the Iranian people — not the mullahs — and his desire to welcome Iran back into the family of nations as a friend. Reiterating this inspirational message can work to mitigate Iran’s fear of U.S. domination and control while reaffirming the president’s stated desire for peaceful coexistence, a message every Iranian who is seeking freedom and self-determination must hear.
Moreover, if President Trump makes clear his unqualified support for the Iranian people, that may inspire Iranians to confront their own oppression and one day hold him in the same high regard East Germans have for President Ronald Reagan for his inspiring call to “tear down this wall.”
Third, U.S. military forces deployed to the region must be configured to offer assistance to a new regime in the event that the IRGC wildly retaliates with violence against innocent civilians. There is a distinction — one the Iranian people can appreciate — between inspiring a coup on the one hand and countering and neutralizing military oppression on the other. Jimmy Carter acted ineffectively and incompetently in 1979. Barack Obama stood by indolently while the 2009 Green Revolution sputtered and was crushed. Iranians haven’t forgotten either.
Finally, the president must stay engaged to build allied support for a post-revolutionary Iran that leads the Iranian people toward prosperity, not provocation. In the meantime, we must stand firmly with the Iranian people. But just as Germans were inspired to take down their own walls, the Iranians must be inspired to take down their own mullahs.
• L. Scott Lingamfelter, a retired U.S. Army colonel, combat veteran and Middle East Foreign Area Officer, served in the Virginia General Assembly.
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