Poland in the Middle East

As the United Nations takes up Tehran’s nuclear program, the United States can and should exploit new fissures in the Iranian ranks.

Darren Bernard

Here we go again ” another repressive, fanatical regime, another leader bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction, another people desperate for change. And another trip to the United Nations to barter for a slap on the wrist for one of the world’s most diabolical governments.

It kinda makes me nostalgic.

Now that the United States and its European allies have concluded that the U.N. Security Council needs to take up Iran’s nuclear program for sanctions, whispers about military action will not be far off. The Bush administration has made it clear ” along with the Israelis ” that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon. And indeed, with resistance from China and Russia to U.N. action, the situation is beginning to increasingly resemble 2002-2003 Iraq.

But if this looks like a carbon copy of the run-up to the Iraq war, take note: The Bush administration has an option in Iran that was not available in dealing with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Thanks to a confluence of variables, and with help from Western governments, Iran could be on a short path to homegrown democratic revolution.

Why now? For one, the election of hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has given Washington an unexpected asset. Ahmadinejad’s bombast and exclusivity has supposedly set apart top Iranian officials. The president’s blazing speeches (he recently called for Israel to be “wiped off the map”) have fueled speculation that even his most fundamentalist allies are worrying that new pressure from the United States will further isolate the Islamic nation. Startlingly, one member of the Iranian parliament was quoted as saying he believes Ahmadinejad’s inability to select an oil minister since coming into office is grounds for impeachment.

A second variable is popular unrest. With the formation of two democracies on its borders, the people of Iran have proved they are tired of their nation’s experiment with a repressive Islamic regime. The “reformers” they elected failed, and from what we know from dissidents, secret polls and sporadic protests on the streets of Tehran, Iranians are ready for change.

But this is not to say we should expect to see Ayatollah Ali Khamenei out of a job any time soon. As with the old Soviet satellites in the 1980s, dissidents serious about reform have nowhere to start. Demonstrations in Tehran pop up occasionally but with little direction or organization. Two years ago, after widespread student protests were violently suppressed in Tehran, motorists jammed the capital’s streets blaring car horns and putting the city in gridlock. Things soon returned to normalcy, and though the protests were well noted by top Iranian leaders, their reaction suggested they were not overly concerned.

For now, the ruling clerics have no reason to be. For whatever reason, the Bush administration has been going through the motions with Iran, giving its leaders time to stall in negotiations, issuing only occasional and half-hearted statements on Middle East reforms and mentioning surprisingly little about Iran’s harboring of terrorists. This is nothing if not unusual for Bush’s typical cowboy diplomacy. Remember the axis of evil? Heard much about that lately?

As we shelve and stutter, we are missing an opportunity: With rampant mistrust swirling among top Iranian officials, with fresh democracies bordering the Islamic state and with a people capable of and willing to achieve radical reforms, Iran is ripe for another revolution. But the impetus for change, as was the case in Poland in the 1980s, has to come from abroad.

Like the Solidarity movement, Iranians need overt, inspirational support from overseas democracies to stir up widespread unrest. Covertly, they need the logistical and communication equipment ” like radio transmitters and computers ” to spread their message to sympathizers. They need printing presses and financial support and ink to coordinate demonstrations and keep pressure on the Ayatollahs and clerics who favor terrorism over democracy. And they need the West ” maybe someone like Uncle Sam ” to provide it all.

Less than a week after the death of President Ronald Reagan, Lech Walesa, the former president of Poland and Solidarity leader, wrote an article commending Reagan’s administration for its work in overthrowing the Soviets’ domination. “When talking about Ronald Reagan,” he began, “I have to be personal. We in Poland took him so personally. Why? Because we owe him our liberty.”

It may be hard to imagine Iranian leaders lavishing such praise upon “Dubya” 15 years down the road, but the ugly truth is this: The only true solution to Iran’s weapons programs is a regime change. Action from the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, while important in the short-term, will only palliate our problems with Tehran. Just like North Korea, Iran will always flout agreements and pursue more dangerous chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. That’s what rogue states bent on annihilating millions of people do.

The solution is to jumpstart a process to overturn the regime from the inside. The question is whether our current president has that much Reagan in him.

Darren Bernard welcomes comments at [email protected]