Journalist Barbara Slavin, author of "Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation," sends the following post, written in response to a piece today by Richard Haass, Council on Foreign Relations president and former George H.W. Bush NSC official and Colin Powell advisor, calling for the U.S. to back regime change in Iran:

When an arch realist like Richard Haass says the time has come to change U.S. policy toward Iran from engagement to supporting regime change, the Obama administration should take notice. In the latest edition of Newsweek, Mr. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a veteran of two past U.S. administrations, writes: “Iran may be closer to profound political change than at any time since the revolution that ousted the shah 30 years ago.” Mr. Haass is acknowledging what many Iran specialists have been saying for months: the Iranian government’s massive rigging of June presidential elections and vicious crackdown on those who peacefully protested have shaken the regime to the core and are likely to bring about its demise. Iran is in the throes of its third modern revolution -- following the toppling of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and a 1906-11 constitutional revolt. The first revolution failed in the face of foreign pressures and led to the aggressively secular regime of the Pahlavi Shahs. They appealed to Iran’s sense of grandeur and desire for modernization but antagonized devout Shi’ites and democrats and prompted a second revolution whose adherents sought greater freedom, authenticity and independence. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and other clerics hijacked the 1979 revolution, fashioning an Islamic Republic that was always an oxymoron. Still, despite its flaws, the regime laid the basis for its own demise by educating – and at the same time frustrating and ultimately alienating – women and young people.
Iran by 2009 was overripe for a new direction. A post-revolutionary baby boom meant that 70 percent of the population was under the age of 30. Free public education had increased literacy to more than 80 percent and 40 percent of the population regularly used the Internet and watched satellite television. Women constituted more than 60 percent of university students but faced unemployment levels of 50 percent and increasingly chafed at government restrictions on their dress and conduct. Iran also faced a broader economic crisis caused by decades of mismanagement and a sharp decline in oil revenues. Still, protests might never have occurred if the government had not claimed a landslide victory for incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The regime’s ensuing brutal treatment of the millions who protested the rigged results will never be forgotten or forgiven by a nation that prizes justice. The opposition has survived mass arrests, sporadic shootings, assassinations and prison rapes. It has proved itself adept at subverting regime holidays, from the anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in 1979 to Ashura, the day when devout Shi’ites commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Hossein, by the forces of a corrupt tyrant. The opposition is mobilizing now for another major show of strength on Feb. 11, the anniversary of the toppling of the Shah’s last government. Cracks are growing within the regime as the opposition deepens. There are reports of police refusing to shoot demonstrators and Revolutionary Guards coughing en masse during speeches by hard-line leaders. Ahmadinejad is having trouble finding a venue to speak where he will not face shouts of “Death to the Dictator.” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is likewise in a defensive crouch, unwilling to authorize the arrest of opposition leaders who once loyally served the system and who now demand significant reforms. Outside Iran, the Diaspora has never been so united. Relatively new exiles who had been supporters of the reformist government of Mohammad Khatami are joining with those who fled decades earlier to demand democratic change. While regime miscalculations sparked this upheaval, President Obama helped lay the groundwork. Iranians were inspired by the mere fact of his election and hoped that they too could bring about change. Obama’s decision to reach out to Iran deprived the regime of a convenient foreign bogeyman. The failure to reach a compromise on Iran’s nuclear program last fall is Iran’s fault; it can no longer blame a hostile Bush administration that sets preconditions for talks. The time has come for the U.S. administration and the rest of the international community to assist Iran’s democrats by providing more technical help so that the images of the protests can spread within Iran and throughout the world. As Haass also suggests, Iranian exiles should provide funds to protesters who have lost their jobs. Most important of all, the world should demand that Iran’s government treat its own people with the respect that the regime has long demanded for itself. Iran’s third revolution does not have to be a bloodbath if those in power have the courage to admit that they are in the wrong. Iran can then reclaim its former glory as a beacon of civilization and of an Islam that is modern, tolerant and just.
Haass' piece, "Enough is Enough," is here.
For his part, an Iranian trade union/labor activist, who I interviewed today, praised the Obama administration for staying out of the fray, and suggested that the West should avoid imposing new sanctions on Iran until after Iran lifts subsidies, which he expected in a few months, after which he expects worker strikes. He suggested such a sequence would make it harder for the regime to blame subsequent financial hardships on the West.
The Obama administration "is doing very well as to not give pretext to hardilners and their forces by staying away from the fray," he said. The regime "would love Obama to come on full force behind the Green movement. Then they would have the pretext for a crackdown, like Tiananmen."
He also said he thought that the Ashura period between Christmas and New Year marked a turning point in Iran, in favor of the opposition. But he said no one could accurately predict how events will transpire.


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