Three days of massive protests following Iran’s sham elections have destroyed the illusion, carefully nurtured by the radical Islamist regime in Tehran, that Iran’s government is a democracy. In reality, it is a theocratic dictatorship masked by a façade of representative government. Mounting political violence has shattered that façade and should be a wake-up call for the Obama Administration, which has based its engagement strategy with Iran on wishful thinking. The Administration undoubtedly hoped that belligerent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be voted out of power and that a successor government would be easier to negotiate with on thorny issues such as Iran’s nuclear program, support for terrorism, and threats against Israel.
President Obama famously proclaimed in his inaugural speech: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Now that it is clear that the regime’s fist remains tightly clenched around the neck of the Iranian people, the Obama Administration can not simply take a business-as-usual approach to Iran’s clerical dictatorship.
President Obama must make it clear that the United States stands with the Iranian people, not with the repressive regime of the ayatollahs. He should strongly denounce the violent suppression of the democratic opposition and the systematic human rights abuses perpetrated by regime. Moreover, he should call on other world leaders to cooperate in pressuring Tehran to end its persecution of political reformers, human rights activists, and religious minorities. And now that the regime has shown its true face, President Obama should join with allies to ratchet up sanctions on Iran for its continued defiance of the United Nations Security Council resolutions on its deceptive nuclear program.
Only strong international pressures, not soothing rhetoric or misconceived attempts at appeasement, are likely to have an effect on the callous Iranian regime. But so far, the Obama Administration has treated the Tehran regime with kid gloves and received nothing in return except for insults, religious lectures, and now the clenched fist.
For more on Iran, see: Iran Briefing Room