“[This] is a theocratic regime that is looking backwards, instead of a regime that is looking forward to make the lives of their people better . . . It is my full expectation that you will see the Iranian people continue to revolt against this.” — Michael Pompeo, Director, Central Intelligence Agency
Breaking News: “These protests are not behind us.”
We share Pompeo’s view, stated January 8.
President Trump’s January 12 decision to renew the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, also known as the nuclear deal, keeps it intact for another 120 days as the White House considers whether to modify the arrangement with key European allies or scrap the deal altogether.
But newly targeted, nonnuclear sanctions issued by the Treasury Department signal the president’s intent to turn up the heat on the regime by prosecuting Tehran’s adventurism, while continuing to scrutinize JCPOA compliance. Exhibit A: Treasury named head of Iran’s judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, to the sanctions lists, where it also placed a Chinese network helping Iran procure weapons.
The president’s move provides an opportunity to pressure Tehran further over its illicit activities, missile tests and crackdowns on protesters. Iran’s use of coercive capacity toward protesters places the regime in a precarious position with a Trump administration now more inclined to uphold human rights and support the aspirations of the Iranian people. The regime arrested thousands, detained, injured and killed them in uprisings beginning on December 28; demonstrations continue in more than a hundred cities, including the heartland of regime support, rural Iran.
Neither Presidents Bush nor Obama backed the Iranian people, when they rose up to change the regime in Tehran, following protests during their respective tenures. Trump therefore stands to make history, provided he follows through on threats to punish those using violence against freedom-seeking demonstrators, per the authors on January 3.
Trump’s offensive posture in responding to the largest uprising since the 2009 presidential elections places Tehran on its back foot and engenders gratitude from demonstrators: Each day of protest represents an opportunity to leverage the people’s resentment against Tehran and strike a fatal blow to a tyrannical regime.
In contrast to our view, on January 7, Frederick Kagan and Marie Donovan argue “The protests rocking an unprecedented expanse of Iran do not, and probably will not, immediately threaten the regime’s survival despite the hopes and dreams of many here in Washington.” But consider Ray Takeyh’s position on January 16 that “The popular uprisings in Iran make it a sure bet that the Islamic Republic’s government will eventually collapse.”
We do not claim that revolution will transpire in 2018, but rather that change will occur and it may happen sooner than some think.
Former CIA analyst, Marc Reuel Gerecht, observed on January 4:
The current eruptions may well fail to unseat the mullahs. Yet as the great medieval historian Ibn Khaldun warned, there is always another asabiyya, or galvanizing spirit of a superior force, waiting outside the capital, gaining unstoppable momentum.
We share Gerecht’s view that momentum is growing, and calls for change are not easily dismissed when broad support exists.
Omri Ceren, editor of The Israel Project, cites strong bipartisan support for the uprising and the cross-party American coalition has valuable counterparts in U.S allies also backing Iranian protesters. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce understood this and, on January 9, provided strong backing for H.Res. 676 , which called for “Supporting the rights of the people of Iran to free expression, condemning the Iranian regime for its crackdown on legitimate protests, and for other purposes.” The non-controversial measure passed by a vote of 415–2.
And if support for protesters is not eliciting deep concern in Tehran, why has the regime’s influence operation to deflect attention and mask discontent on the Iranian street been so concerted?
In a December 31 article in Tehran Times titled “ Attempt to hijack nation’s voice ,” Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Majlis (Parliament) National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, makes the unfounded claim that an “anti-Iran plan by Saudis, Zionists, and the U.S. was put to force by funding the terrorist expatriate group Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization, [the largest unit within the National Council of Resistance of Iran] to seize the moment and wreak chaos.” Regime leaders seeking scapegoats have picked up the theme.
On January 6, an Israeli newspaper, Harretz, teased the headline: “ Iran Calls U.N. Session on Protests Another Trump Foreign Policy Blunder ” and noted that Iran’s UN envoy said he has “hard proof” of foreign intervention in the protests. But no such evidence has materialized.
Perhaps it is because, as Michael Pompeo correctly notes of the protests, “This was the Iranian people. Started by them, created by them, continued by them, demanding a better set of living conditions and a break from the theocratic regime.”