Why Iran’s Brave Protestors Give Us Hope for 2018

By John Zmirak Published on December 30, 2017

Well, Trump’s critics were wrong again. Iran is the second major Muslim country to offer some hope of reform since Trump’s foreign policy took effect. (The other is Iran’s regional enemy, Saudi Arabia.) Is it really an accident that a firmer, more flexible United States looking out for its national interests can have such an effect?

As Iranian exile and Christian convert Sohrab Ahmari (a harsh Trump opponent) has pointed out:

It’s obvious that we should hope and pray that the millions of people stuck under Iran’s backward theocracy can force that regime to reform. There are many moral reasons why:

  • The people there suffer under the cruelty of sharia, the Muslim legal code.
  • The Iranian regime wastes billions on nuclear weapons and foreign wars, while its people face economic stagnation.
  • Christians and other religious minorities are repressed, though not as cruelly as in our “ally” Saudi Arabia.
  • Iran’s regime openly seeks the destruction of the Jewish people.
  • If the current government can give way to one more rational and less apocalyptic, that would benefit all its citizens.

There are also some practical reasons that might not be immediately obvious. These prudential reasons are too easy to overlook. A facile, ideological view of the region would breeze right past them.

Two Ideologies Worth Rejecting

Up till the Trump election, American policy in the Middle East alternated between two such ideologies:

Neoconservatism, which pretends that Islam is really a religion of peace, “hijacked” in some places by extremists. We must use overwhelming U.S. force to repress religious fanaticism, and transform countries in the region in our image. While it grabs the mantle of moralism, this worldview casually overlooks the vicious anti-Christian (and anti-human) policies of U.S. strategic “allies” like Saudi Arabia. It selectively chooses targets for reform — mainly Shi’ite movements backed by Iran, and secular dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Bashar Assad of Syria. Neocons’ passion for human rights seems to peter out when it comes to protecting religious minorities, such as the Christians of Iraq and Syria, who benefited from such secular regimes.

Liberal globalism, which claims that political Islam is “really” just a reaction against U.S. intervention and Western “islamophobia.” Hence we ought to atone for our past acts of “aggression” against Islamic countries, by ending sanctions against Iran, and allowing (or helping) Islamists to take over countries such as Libya and Egypt.

A Prudent, Modest, but Firm Foreign Policy

Trump represents a third tradition, which lacks a “sexy” ideological program. It can even sound outright cynical. Scholars call it “Realism,” and its goals are much more modest. It doesn’t want to pour U.S. blood and treasure into the sand, in the hope of turning the Muslim world into New Hampshire. Nor is it tortured by post-colonial guilt, and suspicious of Israel.

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No, realism at its best promotes a modest foreign policy. It acknowledges that the U.S. is not the agent of all historical change. Neither for good (neocons) nor ill (globalists). Instead realists observe that we are a country. We have interests. And we have rivals. We have allies, insofar as they help us advance those interests. While we should promote, where it’s prudent, moral goals like liberty, we shouldn’t conflate them with our interests. Do that and you start treating your living, breathing citizens as means to abstract, ideological ends. 

Looking at Iran right now, the realist inside me lights up with hope.

A realist would never have invaded Iraq unless he had a clear plan for replacing Saddam Hussein with a stable regime, which protected pro-Western minorities such as its Christians. Nor would a realist have bombed Libya to topple its stable, defanged dictator, Muammar Qaddafi. A realist would not have urged the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, or Assad in Syria, given the likelihood that his replacement would be worse.

Looking at Iran right now, the realist inside me lights up with hope. Here are the practical benefits to America of a change in that regime. You will see that they don’t conflict with our long-term moral objectives. If a better regime emerges in Iran, the U.S. will gain in the following ways.

Flowers of Hope in the Middle East

We won’t have to keep as many troops embedded in Syria. We keep them there now, aiding the Kurds, to prevent the Iranians from gaining a direct path to funnel aid to Hezbollah. That’s a Shi’ite militia that wages a vicious war against our allies in Israel.

We won’t need to align as closely with Sunni tyrannies such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, to contain the expansionism of Iran’s Shi’ite regime.

In fact, we’ll be able to balance the claims of the region’s Shi’ites against those of its Sunnis. We could force Iran on the one hand, and the Gulf States on the other, to bid for our support.

They could “buy” that support in the coin of religious freedom for minorities. And less aid to anti-Israel terrorists and Islamist preachers. Maybe more willingness to take Muslim migrants, instead of turning them all away and building them radical mosques in Paris. There’s good reason to think that the new Saudi leader’s promises to rein in his clerics’ aggressive extremism is partly a bid for U.S. support. The Saudis, like the Turks, were stung by Trump’s refusal to back their play in Syria. Instead of aiding their radical jihadi militias in the overthrow of Assad, we dealt with the Russians and sided with the Kurds. That caused rage in Ankara, and panic in Riyadh.

Such outcomes would concretely benefit the U.S. in countless ways. They’d also make it less likely that we need to send troops in harm’s way anywhere in the region. And they’d increase our leverage to push for morally worthy goals such as protection for persecuted Christians, and an end to attacks on Israel.

So there’s a list of good reasons, grounded in prudence but pointed toward human flourishing, for Americans to wish the Iranian rebels a swift and unbloody triumph.

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  • tz1

    It’s obvious that we should hope and pray that the millions of people stuck under Iran’s backward theocracy can force that regime to reform.
    While there will be a march for life, around that time a bunch of screeching harpies wearing pink hats with cat-ears will be asking for the same thing. An end to the “backward theocracy” you represent which is limiting “reproductive rights”.

    I’m personally reluctant to use the Catholic Catechism on a foreign country and culture that doesn’t seem to want to adopt it. Even worse, it would be a horrendous sin to impose the secular materialism cronyism and the rest that Obama and the Cuckservatives represent. Iran’s “backward theocracy” is not unequivocally worse than our current culture of death, and it is taking a long time and great effort to reverse it.

    Until then, the USA Pot ought not all the Iranian kettle black. Well, Obama…

    The people there suffer under the cruelty of sharia, the Muslim legal code.
    And in the USA, Christians are imposing their views on when life begins and ends, sexuality, Gay Marriage, on every citizen, or trying to. How cruel! And you are one of them!

    The Iranian regime wastes billions on nuclear weapons and foreign wars, while its people face economic stagnation. Iran has no nuclear weapons (have you kept up?). They aren’t engaged in any more foreign wars than half the middle east while we’ve been in two or more quagmires (it is so hard to keep track) including the Iraq war. How has America been faring under Bush and Obama, – see Opoid Crisis for a clue. Again Pot, Kettle, Black.

    Christians and other religious minorities are repressed, though not as cruelly as in our “ally” Saudi Arabia.
    So, let’s all do to Saudi Arabia – the 9/11 Hijacker homeland – what we’ve been doing to Iran since Reagan and see what happens. Meanwhile bake that Gay Wedding Cake, and don’t say anyting controversial since under 1983 Bob Jones U decision, the IRS can cancel your tax exempt status any time they want. Don’t pray or read the bible in school. But don’t think that we are repressed.

    Iran’s regime openly seeks the destruction of the Jewish people.
    So to US Evangelicals, at least if you take their dispensationalist theology seriously. We need the Tribulation, and AntiChrist and all but 144k jews slaughtered before Jesus comes back. And it isn’t Iran’s regime. Ask any Jew in the EU where there are Muslim rapefugees around. Paris and Berlin are quickly becoming worse than under the Nazis.

    If the current government can give way to one more rational and less apocalyptic, that would benefit all its citizens.
    Same here, but I wish Trump had fewer apocalyptic dispensational evangelicals advising him, as they tend to support neoconnery.

  • tz1

    The USA that sent the CIA in to depose the elected government and install the Shah.
    The USA that supported the Shah even when he started torturing and being tyrant.
    The USA that played both sides to kill more Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war.
    The USA that rejected Iran’s help in fighting Al Queda (they border Afghanistan)
    The USA that starved Iranian children via sanctions.
    The USA that always takes Israel’s side, meddles across the middle east, deposes and executes government heads, who uses drones to kill anyone they think they should…

    The USA that supports this current set of protests…

    Cheer all you want, but I worry that Irani citizens might not take it the right way.

  • Another way the Trump critics were wrong: they said moving the embassy to Jerusalem would ignite the Middle East. Well it’s being ignited alright, but not the way they foresaw. The reason the Iranian patriots are rising up against the evil ayatollahs is that they have watched the American president in action and believe he is the real deal – much unlike when obama left them twisting in the wind in their Green Revolution eight years ago.

  • Fieldsmar

    Iranian Spring ! Hope for the sad country and its oppressed people!

  • bbb

    Keep in mind that what the Iranians want is their Shah back, not freedom like Iraq fought to have.
    The Islamic religion is very powerful in Iran and the people adhere to a caste system that dictates their “place” in life according to the “place” their forefathers had.
    The radicalized Muslim Sharia Law is actually a theocracy – government wrapped in religion.
    The radicalization of the Islam religion is what the Iranian people are angry about and its controls are not only cruel but absolute and focus on the worship of death.
    This is not a war the US needs to consider becoming part of, although humanitarian aid is acceptable to Iran.
    Walking a very fine, thin line of diplomacy is required in this religious disputed, just as law enforcement has to be very careful when answering a domestic violence situation.
    Both sides could easily turn against US intervention.
    Prayer and hope for Iranians who wish to restore some vestige of civilization to their nation is our best bet.

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