Monday, February 07, 2005

Iran: Act Quickly

When President Bush said, in his State of the Union Speech last week, that America would stand with the Iranian people in their quest for liberty, it reminded me of his statements to the people of Iraq prior to that war. If the mullahs in Iran were paying attention -- and we know they were -- you can bet that they felt a little prickly heat at that moment. Last week Condoleezza Rice assured the Eurocrats that the U.S. has no plans for miliary action, but would use a variety of ways to confront the Iranian mullahs' desire for nuclear capabilities. I doubt that reassurance did much to quell any worries. Even so, military action at this point -- even if welcomed by the people of Iran -- would bankrupt the President's store of political capital.

Writing today at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Ledeen notes that the time for action on Iraq is now, and points to one method of bringing legitimacy to the President's pointed statement in his speech.

The only meaningful election in Iran would be a referendum on the legitimacy of the regime itself. Let the people judge the consequences of 25 years of theocratic rule by voting it up or down. If, as the mullahs constantly claim, they are the true protectors of the Iranian people, they will be happy at the chance to demonstrate their popularity. But if, as the regime's critics insist, the Islamic republic is already illegitimate in the eyes of the people, a referendum--duly supervised by suitable international observers--would mark the first step in a peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy. It would be followed by the selection of a transition government that would supervise the two phases now under way in Iraq: drafting a new constitution that would be ratified by popular vote, and then elections for the new government.

A national referendum has been proposed by numerous Iranian leaders of considerable prestige, most of whom are in Iran, including victims of torture and extended periods in jail. The list of supporters includes one unexpected name: Mohsen Sazgara, the founder of the dreaded Revolutionary Guards and one of Khomeini's original team. It includes pro-democracy activists and some of the leading theological figures in the country. At last count, more than 18,000 Iranians of different political loyalties had endorsed it (see

Thus far, no Western leader has endorsed the call for an Iranian referendum. Now is the time. If the mullahs unexpectedly accept it, they will either receive confirmation of their claims to legitimacy, or be permitted to peacefully leave their posts. If they reject it, then no Western leader will be able to dismiss the calls for democratic revolution in Iran, and a united West can do for Iran what was done for Ukraine.

This meets all the president's requirements as well as those of many of his critics. It spreads freedom, which is the best way to defeat the terrorists (a freely elected government in Iran will almost certainly be a mortal blow to the terror network), and it does it without dropping a bomb or firing a shot. It reasserts the principles of the Declaration of Human Rights, and reminds the world's tyrants that their power can only be legitimate if it rests upon the consent of their people. How can any real democrat oppose it?

The question is whether a referendum -- unless done quickly -- would be too late. Iran's nuclear program is picking up speed, and by summer they may have a gained a lot more negotiating power, or the question of containment may simply be moot. So in that sense alone, Ledeen is right. Whatever we plan to do about Iran, we need to do it quickly.


Post a Comment

<< Home