In February 1979, the people of Iran threw off the rule of
one dictator, only to watch as religious extremists installed another.
Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power had far-reaching consequences for the
Iranian people and for much of the world.
The 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution represents an important opportunity to examine those consequences and reassess collective approaches to dealing with the regime and helping its people.
In recent years, there has been talk of a trend toward “moderation” among Iran’s leadership. But even more recently, the Trump administration has turned sharply away from the former praise of Rouhani and his associates. Last May, the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Despite the International Atomic Energy Agency saying Iran was generally in compliance with its obligations under the deal, President Trump cited the deal’s failure to accomplish its broader aim of contributing to peace and stability in the Middle East.
The reality of the situation is that while Iran’s nuclear activities were being held partially in check, its overall behaviors were emboldened by what the regime’s opponents tend to call “policies of appeasement.”
This language was used, for instance, in a statement issued by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, in the wake of the US State Department’s announcement that it would be hosting an international conference in Warsaw to discuss Middle Eastern affairs, particularly the expanding, destructive influence of Iran.
The consequences of this situation are reflected in virtually every aspect of Iran policy other than the negotiations leading up to the JCPOA. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as the final authority on all such matters, begrudgingly permitted those negotiations while still emphasizing the status of the United States and Britain as “enemies” of the Islamic Republic.
Yet that was enough to put the brakes on international scrutiny of Tehran’s overall conduct, at least until the Trump administration took over the White House in 2017.
In withdrawing from the JCPOA last May, the US president highlighted the regime’s ongoing development and testing of ballistic missiles, in clear violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231. He also pointed to the role that Tehran has played in prolonging and worsening regional conflicts through support of Hezbollah, the Assad regime in Syria, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
In other speeches, Trump has also affirmed that the Iranian people are the “longest-suffering victims” of the religious dictatorship, and he has sought to keep attention focused on Iran’s status as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.
The latter goal should be easy in light of the recent proliferation of Iranian terror threats directed at targets on Western soil.
The vast majority of these targets were affiliated with the NCRI, whose members already comprise the vast majority of persons who have been murdered by the Iranian regime. The worst of these killings, including the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988, are in the nation’s past.
But this is by no means indicative of a trend toward moderation.
Quite to the contrary, numerous high-ranking Iranian officials have been explicitly advocating for greater levels of brutality in their repression of dissent and their enforcement of sharia law.
Just days ago, Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri told Iranian state media that he considered it “unfortunate” the judiciary was not carrying out more amputations, and he lamented the fact that Tehran is making any effort whatsoever to avoid international condemnation.
Still, those efforts are as superficial as can be, and they are reminiscent of small concessions offered in nuclear negotiations in order to secure broad toleration in other areas.
The Iranian judiciary continues to defy the international community over matters like the execution of juvenile offenders, and it continues to push for death sentences as punishment for those who have participated in the past year’s nationwide protests, which rejected both the “moderate” and hardline factions of Iranian politics and advocated instead for a wholesale change of government.
Although the Trump administration has avoided the phrase regime change, it is sure to use the Warsaw conference to push for policies that trend in that direction. The time has come for what the opposition leader Mrs. Maryam Rajavi said was “imperative to rectifying” four decades of relative inaction in the face of ongoing abuses by the Iranian regime.