It took a while for the American media to catch on, but there are anti-government and anti-fundamentalist protests erupting all over Iran:
The largest public display of discontent in Iran since the 2009 Green Movement has brought about a series of tweets from US President Donald Trump, pushback from the Iranian government and a scene that might have been unfathomable a decade ago — protesters challenging the rule of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
Nominally, the protests are about Iran’s bad economy. But I suspect, as in 2009, there is more to it than that: a younger generation that chafes under the iron rule of the mullahs and wants Iran to move into … well, at least the 19th century. Trump has tweeted in support of it, a move I am a bit dubious of. The Iranians have a long memory of how the US propped up the Shah and it would be easy for the government to cast the protests as US meddling. However … well, I’ll get into that in a second.
Naturally, everyone is scrambling to claim credit for the protests. The Trumpists are claiming that Trump has inspired the protests because reasons. The Obamaists are given him credit because of the nuclear deal, which made it harder for the Iranian government to blame us for their spectacular incompetence and corruption. The Obama explanation sounds a little more plausible to me. I’ve never been convinced that sanctions do anything but empower dictators at the expense of the populace (see, e.g., North Korea, Cuba, Russia and Iran). We saw, with the collapse of the Communist Block, how a little bit of prosperity can fuel demands for true freedom. However …
OK, here’s the thing about that last two paragraphs. It’s tempting to try to wedge this is into our political tribalism. But the world does not revolve around the United States. Maybe Trump’s open support or Obama’s silence make a difference, but I really doubt it. The US will get blamed for the protests no matter what we do. And I don’t think the protesters really care what the President of the United States says. They’re far more concerned with what’s going on in their own country. And maybe Obama’s nuclear deal or Trump’s [insert something Trump didn’t do which he’ll claim credit for anyway] made a difference. But again, the protests happened when the sanctions were still in place.
No, I think this has way more to do with … stay with me here … Iran and the Iranians. They have a large population of young people who don’t want to live under a theocratic regime. This undercurrent has always been there — people I know who’ve been to Iran tell me it is far more pro-US than the media would have you believe. For example, they held vigils for the fallen on 9/11. I don’t think Iran’s going to become a secular Western non-Israel-hating state anytime soon. But we’ve seen a lot of baby steps toward a more moderate regime. And one of these days — maybe now, maybe ten years from now — we’re going to a big step in that direction.
So what should we do? Again, I don’t think it will make a huge difference what we do. But tempered statements of support for the people are probably fine. Maybe we can even hint at moderating sanctions further with regime change.
I’m just glad we’ve spent the last 20 years ignoring the neocon morons who wanted us to start bombing.