Open U.S. support of Iraq dissidents could backfire

Freedom New Mexico

A preliminary assessment of the gatherings in Iran on Thursday around the 31st anniversary of the coming of the Islamic republic in 1979 suggests the regime was largely successful in containing the protests of what has come to be called the Green Movement.

That’s unfortunate, but the Greens made enough of a splash to suggest the status quo in Iran will not last forever.

Beginning with spontaneous protests following the rigged presidential elections in June, the dissenting movement has revealed a deep level of discontent with the theocratic government in Tehran. Highly decentralized, without a charismatic leader and organized to a great extent through e-mail, texting, Twitter and the like, the movement has since turned out tens of thousands of protesters at rallies several times, most recently in December during the celebration of the observance of Ashoura.

The mullahs’ regime this time had the advantage of knowing far in advance that protest was likely and, therefore, had time to neutralize it.

More than 1,000 people were arrested in the weeks prior to the event. Police and other security forces were strategically deployed to minimize the visibility of protesters, many of whom were brutalized. Key leaders were arrested or detained early in the day. Internet services were interrupted, and news coverage was restricted. Pro-regime rallies featured people bused in and free food.

Although the rise of the Green Movement has not led to, and may not result in, the imminent demise of the ruling theocracy in Iran that many had wished for, it has exposed deep rifts in Iranian society that the regime cannot ignore.

Whether this will lead to reform within the context of the current regime — perhaps reducing or eliminating the veto power of the ayatollahs over government policy — or something more far-reaching, change seems inevitable.

Although expressions of concern about respect for human rights in Iran is appropriate and important, overt or covert U.S. government support for Iranian dissidents would be more likely to undermine the movement than help it. Patience is a virtue here.