There are roughly two possible outcomes to the present uprising in Iran. Either the protestors will succeed and the current regime will be overthrown or the regime will manage to crush the rebellion. Either outcome has profound implications for American foreign policy.
If the rebellion succeeds and a government, presumably headed by Mir Hossein Mousavi, comes to power, a diplomatic opening will likely result. How much of an opening will depend on how Mir Hossein Mousavi means to govern and how much influence the mullahs will have after he comes to power.
When Mir Hossein Mousavi was Prime Minister of Iran in the 1980s, his governance was somewhat rocky and repressive. He is an Islamist and an acolyte of the late Ayatollah Khomeini. But according to an article in the LA Times, Mousavi has become something of a moderate: “He has voiced his commitment to Khomeini’s ideals but also dared to say that the Islamic Republic needs to resurrect promises of freedom, transparency, rule of law and democracy as well as Islam.” Mousavi is also said to be concerned about Iran’s diplomatic isolation under the current regime.
All of that suggests that a successful regime change in Iran would allow President Obama to propose a deal with Iran. In exchange for dropping the nuclear weapons project and support of terrorism, Iran could get improved trade relations and better access to international credit markets. Easing the massive repression that exists in Iran under the current regime should also be a precondition.
Of course the Iranian revolution could spiral out of control, going beyond just electing a more moderate government to an outright drive for a Republic without the Islamic qualifier. If Iraq can be free of Saddam Husein and Afghanistan can be free of the Taliban, why can’t Iran be totally free of the mullahs? That potential development suggests an even greater diplomatic opportunity, coupled with the also certainty that such a new government will have its hands full suppressing an Islamist insurgency similar to the one recently defeated in Iraq and still ongoing in Afghanistan.
The other outcome is that the current Iranian regime suppresses the rebellion in blood. In that case, a diplomatic initiative with Iran would be unthinkable. It was likely not in the cards anyway for President Obama, through sheer power of his personality, to broker a deal on nuclear weapons with the current regime. It will certainly be the case if the regime survives.
That suggests that President Obama will be compelled to apply tougher measures. Economic sanctions will almost certainly be needed. A military strike against Iran becomes a real possibility.
That suggests that right now President Obama needs to drop his reticence to openly support the rebellion. Hand-wringing about being accused of “interfering” is outrageous because (a) the United States will be accused of it anyway and (b) the current Iranian regime is so odious, so much a threat to world peace that it needs to be interfered with.
President Obama speaks eloquently about adhering to “American values” when dealing with other countries. What could be more in accord with American values that to stand with people who are risking their lives for the right to be free?
Source: Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s unusual career arc, Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim and Kim Murphy, LA Times, June 22nd, 2009