Making the Regime’s Argument for It, Cont’d
Something is definitely happening in the Washington-based Iran debate, because there’s a lot to agree with in this Thomas Jocelyn post at The Weekly Standard. Jocelyn provides a much-more-sophisticated-than-usual take on the proposition that the Iranian regime is just going to blame whatever the opposition does on shadowy western puppetmasters. Some observers take that line and conclude, well, if we’re going to get blamed for it anyway, we might as well do some stuff in support of the opposition. But Jocelyn’s take is that the current generation of Iranian protesters doesn’t harbor nearly the degree of anti-Americanism that its parents do. While Jocelyn doesn’t give any advice to President Obama on policy, he writes that the president “shouldn’t assume that increasing America’s rhetorical support for the protesters will make the regime’s efforts to brand them American puppets successful.” A good point to consider.
I don’t really want to argue with this so much as I’d like to suggest broadening its focus. While we don’t know what exactly success would mean for the opposition, governing Iran, to some degree, is presumably part of the picture. And there the opposition would have to govern more than just the people who already support it. There are millions of Iranians who voted for Ahmadinejad. They’re not going anywhere. Same goes with the revolutionary generation. One of the biggest mistakes that revolutionaries make is failing to expand their constituent base once in power. And there all I’d suggest is that it’s probably better not to say anything that could make the United States into an obstruction to the opposition’s attempts, once in power — and, yes, we’re a long way from there — to win over its opponents. There will already be enough internal problems for any successful opposition to contend with, as well as actual substantive disagreements with the United States and other countries, to add to the burden.
That said: Trita Parsi told me last week that the prudent course for anyone seeking solidarity with the Iranian opposition is to stay “two steps behind” the Iranians. It’s good advice. What it should mean, when followed rigorously, is that the American position changes as the Iranian opposition’s positions change. Jocelyn is happier with the administration’s later statements than its earlier ones. I take it from Trita’s op-ed the other day that he thinks it’s time for Obama to start condemning the regime as it continues its violent suppression of the opposition. We’ll hear from the president shortly, but all this should signal that the administration’s rhetoric has some room for maneuver.