Ladies and gentlemen,
It saddens me to reappear before you here today at a time when under the yoke of the clerical regime, my homeland is labeled as the greatest threat to international peace and security, and more importantly, from my vantage point, this threat comes at the cost of great pain and suffering for my fellow compatriots in Iran.
Fear of the first state-sponsor of terrorism acquiring nuclear weapons, with all of its implications for nuclear blackmail and terror, even unconventional delivery of a nuclear device to Europe or to these shores, has been widely discussed. But let me address how the strategic landscape is viewed by those in power in Iran:
Like all totalitarian systems, the Islamist regime in Tehran needs to expand in order to survive. Mr. Ahmadinejad has worked to become more popular on the Arab street than he is in Iranian homes. His instruments of oppression – special units of the Revolutionary Guards and the Basijis – feel intensely disliked and find their morale eroded while on patrol in major Iranian cities, but they walk ten feet tall in the souks from Mindanawa to Damascus; this is because they present themselves as champions of radical Islamism in front of the West.
As long as the Islamic Republic is in power, the project for democracy in the greater Middle East may actually pave the way for Iran’s expansionism. Witness the Islamic Republic’s ally Hamas’ victory in Palestinian elections. The coalition forces have removed Saddam and placed power in Iraq’s elected parliament. But who is the king maker in that parliament today? It is the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq who for twenty years was nurtured and prepared for his present role by the leaders of the Islamic Republic. Nor is Iran limiting its bet to one option. Three weeks ago, the leader of the most radical Shiite faction in Iraq, went to Tehran to receive financial, intelligence and organizational support.
When Iran’s protégés have the money, information, and support from those who are masters of manipulation, intimidation and violence against their political opponents, they have a strong upper-hand against their rivals in a nascent democracy such as Iraq. In Lebanon, if Hezbollah can spend more money than the government building schools, mosques and hospitals – thanks to generous Iranian contributions – don’t be surprised if they win elections.
A “Bermuda Triangle” from Iraq to Lebanon to Palestine is being taken over by Iran’s allies through the ballot box. It could pull in the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, and when it does the same to the Shiites of the oil-rich Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, the encirclement of the Persian Gulf will be complete. Islamists will have achieved what the Soviets could not, namely complete control of the Persian Gulf oil and the jugular of Western economies. They would then have a latter day Caliphate to lead all the forces that are against the post Cold War vision of the free world.
All the Islamic Republic needs in order to achieve this goal is to be able to use low intensity violence to supplement its financial, intelligence and organizational support for its allies. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why Iran needs the bomb: to neutralize the conventional military superiority of the West, and continue to use terrorism and low intensity violence without the fear of escalation to high intensity conventional warfare. For the free world, these are unacceptable outcomes. And yet, there isn’t much time to find a solution. The resumption of enrichment by the Islamic Republic has drastically reduced the window of decision. The vast number of commentaries and reports on the subject seem to come down to this: comparing diplomatic options with punitive ones, including military strikes.
I am here to tell you that neither is an option:
The fruitless Euro-three diplomatic efforts have already given the theocrats three years. Another three years of cat-and-mouse games with the Russians under the IAEA buys enough time to make a bomb: that is the Islamic Republic’s plan and hope.
The problem with these negotiations all along was the false assumption that the other side wants a solution to avert a crisis. Quite the contrary: Increasingly unpopular, the Islamic Republic needs an atmosphere of crisis to justify its increased militarization and harsh security measures at home, and divert attention from increasing poverty and the misery index – so long as this crisis does not result in a shooting war which they will lose. The fundamentalists’ assumption is that continuing on their present course will lead to a collision with the free world. Therefore, they believe they need a nuclear umbrella to force the other side off the road before the collision.
As for a military strike, it will rally nationalistic sentiments which will work to the regime’s advantage, and consequently, give the theocracy a much longer lease on life. Make no mistake about it; the question is what comes first in Iran: Democracy or nuclear weapons? The race is on!
Let me repeat: a military strike may delay the bomb by two or three years, but it will delay democracy several times over. It is not a smart choice, and no way to win the race! If neither negotiations nor punitive measures are the answer, the inevitable question becomes: how is democracy achievable in Iran?
Let us recall that a hundred years ago, Iran’s Constitutional Revolution introduced the first genuine democracy into the East, with more than half the population of the world. Let me assure you that today, there are more than a thousand circles of dissent and opposition in Iran against the regime. Their cumulative weight is far greater than that of the clerical regime. However, the problem is that they are kept isolated from each other; and this is the regime’s highest priority.
Local networks facilitating communications within these circles are beyond the regime’s control. When it comes to connecting all of these circles at the national level, however, the regime comes down with an iron fist. The Reform Movement, the Student Movement, the printed press, web loggers, provide examples of attempts to create national networks.
The regime’s response to the Reform Movement was to corrupt it from above by installing subservient leaders who later confessed their vow to defend the regime, not the people who elected them.
They fragmented the student movement through a combination of torture, imprisonment, building a fifth column, and even a vast drug ring. Can you imagine, a year prior to the vast student protests of 1999, you could seldom find drugs in dorms; a year later heroin was cheaper than tobacco! This does not happen in authoritarian states, unless underwritten by the state itself.
Living in the free world, you would expect that the natural means of communication with these circles would be a free press. Well, there are more journalists and web loggers in Iranian jails today than in any other country in the world.
While the roots of a national communications network has to be inside Iran, the conclusion from the observations above is that the hub of this network cannot be inside the country.
This is where the free world can help. I know of hundreds of young dissidents who have done organizational activity inside Iran, in effect connecting the aforementioned small local networks. Today they are sitting scared in places from Jordan to Turkey, or in refugee camps in European cities. With a little help from the free world, they can become the building blocks of a two-way communication network that aggregates the demands of the thousand circles of opposition into a national demand for democracy and against this theocracy.
I stand here before you, appealing on behalf of the many dissidents who simply ask for the support of the free world. And I hope that I am right to being optimistic that the free world is indeed committed to invest in democracy as the solution for Iran, rather than endless negotiations or military strikes.