In the Arena

How to Help the Iranian Rebels

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Reuel Marc Gerecht, who knows Iran well, has an interesting op-ed in the New York Times today about how President Obama should deal with the Iran’s green movement. He is no less critical than John McCain, but considerably more subtle–and I think his main proposal, of giving tech support to the Iranian people, making it easier for them to access the internet via satellite, is a good one…so long as it is done quietly, without McCainiac bleating.

That said, I do believe that Gerecht overstates the capacity of the Green Movement to succeed in toppling the current, odious regime. To win, the reformers will have to find an alliance with the quietist members of the religious community; the bazaaris, whose businesses are being hurt by Iran’s increasing commercial isolation (not just the sanctions, but the unilateral decision by an increasing number of international corporations not to do business with this regime); and some of the more moderate “principleist” conservatives, who will be favored candidates in the next election.

A wise Iranian once said to me, “The Shah’s problem was that he saw Iran as Persian, but not Muslim. Khomeini’s problem is that he saw Iran as Muslim, but not Persian. We need a government that is both Persian and Muslim.” The regime needs to be changed, but perhaps not the Iranian constitution–if the growing number of not-so-activist and radical clerics, the quietists, can play the same role in Iran that Ayatullah Sistani has played in Shi’ite Iraq. The elements of a politically sane solution exist in Iran…but these elements will have to be both clever and lucky to remove the Revolutionary Guard from power.