The American Skepticism About Helping Iranians Not Justified

The readers responded strongly to a piece on Monday about the urgency for the global community to get involved on Iran, because the current lack of strong central leadership can lead to a major power vacuum that can further push the country and region into chaos after the increasingly inevitable collapse of the current regime. But unfortunately, as it has been the case in any instance of calls for more involvement, many responders reacted predictably and negatively. Most believed we should do nothing more than merely observing the situation and had different arguments in support of this position. It is important to identify and directly address some of the main arguments.

The first argument involves the fact that the United States' troops are currently stretched thin and cannot handle a third conflict. This argument is simply irrelevant because it is based on two false assumptions, one of which is quite dangerous. The first assumption is that the previous piece was calling on the Untied States to unilaterally get involved on Iran. Rather, the call was directed toward the international community and international bodies such as the United Nations. To make the leap and assume that when one calls on the world to take action on a matter, he must be talking about the United States is the kind of American-centric viewpoint that we must eradicate.

But the second assumption on which this argument depends is that the only way in which an external power can get involved on the Green Movement is through military action. There are many more effective and non-military ways in which the global community can take action to protect human rights in Iran. To quickly assume that the only way we can interact with other countries is through military action is a dangerous one, which unfortunately seems to have infected some in the left.

Some also mentioned that we are now in an economic downturn and cannot afford to help a country like Iran. It should suffice to humbly point out that destructive American policies toward Iran over the decades following the end of World War II is a major part of why Iran is in its current predicament. The United States owes it to the Iranian people to do what it can to help. We should not see assistance to Iranians in their struggle now as an optional act of benevolence, but as an ethical responsibility to begin to correct the wrongs that have been done over all these years.

And as one reader aptly pointed out, often our willingness to avoid involvement of any kind in the short run leads us to have to get involved in a much larger scale later. Case in point: Afghanistan. Many wanted out as soon as the Russians left the country, and they got it. The United States left the country in the hands of brutal Taliban as soon as the Russians left. That led to Afghanistan's repression of women and girls and becoming a safe haven for Al Qaeda, 9/11, our subsequent invasion and the current expansion of operations twenty years later.

The reality is we do not live in a bubble. What happens in Iran will have a direct impact on transnational issues such as nuclear proliferation and stability in the region, and that will have a real impact on every American. So we have two options now: talk about the Green Movement now and discuss what we think we can do to help give momentum to it, or close our eyes and ask to be left alone just to see Iran possibly fall into chaos and the United States get forced to get involved in much more extensive ways than anything we can do now. And let's not assume that the U.S. can stay out if there is full-blown chaos in Iran, because the country will have enough enriched uranium to make that highly unlikely.

The second argument from readers made the point that because U.S. has pursued many wrong policies in the past--such as the CIA sponsored coup d'état that overthrow the Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh and U.S.'s sales of weapons to Iraq, which it used against Iran during the two countries' eight-year war--we should remain uninvolved now. It's hard to fully understand this reasoning. Shouldn't our wrong policies in the past motivate us to do what we can to help Iranians to make up for the harm? How could an argument name the wrong policies of the past to justify not doing the right thing now?

The third argument questions the fundamental reason that sparked the movement, saying that the case has not been made for fraud allegations. First of all, it is very hard to make a case for anything when you have not been granted a hearing. It's like saying Guantanamo detainees deserve to remain in prison without charge because they haven't made the case for their innocence. Secondly, the case is made as effectively as it has been possible in light of the regime's crackdown and retaliation against anyone who wants to look into it. Just to name two of many incriminating pieces of evidence that have surfaced since June, days after the election, the state-run TV showed ballets it claimed to be Ahmadinejad's, except that the ballets looked like they had never been folded whereas all voters are required to fold their ballets before dropping them in the box. Also, the British Channel 4 just did a thorough interview with a former basij member, who explained exactly how the regime instructed them to commit fraud. And don't pay too much attention to the all-too-over-cited-and-under-questioned Washington Post poll that suggested pre-election support for the regime. There is no point to polling in Iran when most people who disagree with the regime are terrified to speak to anyone. Iranian elections aren't Pennsylvania primaries.

And this is all beside the point. The reality is Iran is a theocracy where not everyone can run for office. You have to have your Islamic credentials approved by the 6 clerics and 6 religious lawyers (all unelected) on the Guardian Council. So regardless of the vote results in June, the election wasn't just stolen this time. Iranian elections are structurally stolen every four years, and that's really what the Green Movement is about now. It's no longer about Mousavi v. Ahmadinejad. It's about the political regime itself.

Finally, one often hears the argument that the international community must remain uninvolved, because otherwise, the Iranian regime will use any such involvement as evidence that the movement is Western led and can legitimately be suppressed. While this argument is correct when it comes to any overt financial or military support for the opposition, it will not hold water if the international community exclusively focuses on and condemns the Iranian regime's human rights crimes. The fact us that the Iranian regime is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights while now systematically violating its articles 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16 (section 1), 17 (section 2), 18, 19, 20 (Section 1), 21, 23, 25 (Section 1), 26 (Sections 2 and 3), 27, 28, 29, and 30. The U.N. doesn't just have the option, but the fundamental responsibility to criticize a country with such a record. And if the world makes a stance against Iran's daily crimes by highlighting the fact that it is a signatory of this agreement, it will be virtually impossible for the regime to legitimately argue that the criticism is not well-deserved.

But it is equally important to note that the Iranian regime will make those accusations against the West no matter what the West does and doesn't do. Meantime, the worst thing we can do is to allow such a corrupt and dictatorial regime to have so much control over our behavior, and refrain from doing the right thing because we are worried about the regime's absurd attacks. Rest assured that Iranians have heard every anti-American and anti-Western accusation enough times to ignore them all together. Iran is a highly educated society; we must simply have more respect for their intellect and ability of Iranians to reject the regime's propaganda. If they did not have such an intellect and believed everything they were told, the Green Movement would have never started.

President Bush was one of the worst presidents of the United States, if not the worst. During his two terms, he left a legacy of war, unbridled corporatism and assault on civil liberties and human rights. But as often as we speak about this legacy, he left another subtler but perhaps more permanent effect on the American left. This legacy manifests itself in the form of almost knee-jerk negative reactions by many in response to any call for constructive involvement in other parts of the world. But just as we cannot let the Iranian regime determine our behavior, we also must not allow President Bush's wrong policies to prevent us from doing the right thing now.

Iran may be a partisan campaign issue in the United States, but to the Iranians in the streets who are putting their lives on the line in order to hold signs with "where Is My Vote" and "Freedom" written on them in English, this struggle is not about the United States; it's about them and their right to determine their own future.

BigShotBob, a Huffington Post reader had a pretty good start with some of his suggestions, like "offer a summit in Geneva. See if, in fact, Iran's leadership wants peace," "Quit opposing Iran's nuclear program, provided that (a) the program is limited to Thorium fuel cycle technologies," and "demand ... that Iran allow US and international investment, especially in the areas of computer technology and communications. This would include substantial net neutrality for all Iranians."

So let it be our New Year and new decade resolution to take a renewed look at the situation in Iran and objectively ask ourselves what it is we can do to help.


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