Richmond Times – Dispatch | 3/7/2019 | By Phillip Choobin
The prospect of replacing the existing theocracy with a truly democratic system is more attainable than mainstream Western politics has yet acknowledged.
When the White House first announced plans for the Warsaw conference, the event was billed as an opportunity to build consensus and develop collective action for dealing with the rogue state of Iran. While Trump administration officials toned down this language, generalizing the agenda, in practice, the U.S. delegates still placed much of their emphasis on Iranian affairs.
This is as it should be. The Iranian regime’s fingerprints are all over the crises spanning the Middle East. The mullahs’ support of the Assad regime is largely to blame for the bloodshed in the Syrian conflict. Tehran’s backing of Shiite Houthi rebels set off a similarly devastating war in Yemen. In Iraq and elsewhere, sectarian feuding and general instability are fostered by extremist paramilitary groups backed by the Tehran regime. Indeed, the growing influence of such extremists is instrumental to Tehran’s efforts at securing regional hegemony.
Of late, there has been an uptick in the regime’s violence directly impacting Western nations, to say nothing of its indirect effects on Western interests worldwide. Over the course of 2018, at least half a dozen incidents were uncovered in which Iranian intelligence agents were either spying on potential targets or actually attempting to assassinate or bomb them.
In the biggest such case, four conspirators, including a senior Iranian diplomat, were arrested in June 2018 for attempting to set off explosives at a gathering near Paris attended by approximately 100,000 Iranian expatriates from five continents. The event, organized by adherents of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), featured speeches by a global roster of speakers representing political, military, and academic circles.
Thus, Tehran’s penchant for violence threatened not only Western sovereignty, but also prominent American and European individuals.
Just after that plot was revealed, a criminal indictment was released by a U.S. federal court pointing to efforts by two Iranian operatives to set the stage for terrorist attacks in the U.S. against NCRI officials in Washington, D.C.
And in December, the Iranian Ambassador to Albania and a second diplomat were expelled from that country for their role in a plot to car-bomb a New Year gathering of thousands of Iranian dissidents, near the Albanian capital, Tirana.
In this context, delegates to the Warsaw conference, including Vice President Mike Pence, reiterated the U.S. commitment of “standing with the Iranian people” and putting pressure on the ruling regime.
On the sidelines of the conference some whose lives had been threatened by the Paris bomb plot, including Mayor Rudy Giuliani, told a rally of Iranian activists that Iran’s theocratic dictatorship “must end and end quickly in order to have peace and stability [in the Middle East].”
Such statements reflect the attitudes of the overwhelming majority of Iran’s own population. The Iranian people have made little secret of their resentment of the clerical regime that hijacked the 1979 revolution. That resentment has been on daily display since early 2018, when an estimated 160 cities and towns were rocked by anti-government protests.
The nationwide uprising featured unprecedented slogans such as “death to the dictator” and other explicit references to regime change. Although harshly suppressed following violent clashes between protesters and Iranian security forces, protests and strikes carried on the message throughout 2018 and into 2019. Iran’s activist community has more than fulfilled the call for a “year full of uprisings” expressed last March by Maryam Rajavi, the NCRI’s president-elect.
The prospect of replacing the existing theocracy with a truly democratic system is more attainable than mainstream Western politics has yet acknowledged. But in the wake of the large, highly organized protests at the Warsaw conference, the Munich Security Conference, and other international gatherings, it is increasingly difficult to downplay the strength or ambition of the Iranian Resistance as a viable alternative.
That strength will be on display in Washington, D.C., on March 8, when Iranian-Americans will gather from across the U.S. to proclaim their support for the sort of firm policy on Iran that would encourage the Iranian people in their struggle against the ruling tyranny. In fact, they want the world to endorse the Iranian people’s loud and clear call for regime change.
The EU continues to push back against a policy clearly confronting the Islamic Republic’s terrorism and malign regional shenanigans to its own detriment. The White House’s high-pressure approach is a welcome replacement to decades of futile attempts at appeasement and may help to foster regime change and a positive transformation of one of the world’s most volatile regions.
Phillip Choobin is president of the Iranian American Community of Virginia, a member of the Organization of Iranian American Communities — U.S. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @PhillipChoobin.