Iran protests: How Trump can strike a fatal blow against a dangerous, tyrannical regime

President Trump should take decisive action in 2018 to support the ouster of the virulently anti-American theocracy that has ruled Iran with an iron fist and threatened its neighbors for the past four decades.

The president’s first step should be to throw American support behind the brave anti-government protesters who have taken to the streets in mass demonstrations across the Islamic Republic since Thursday. The street protests continued Saturday, with demonstrations in cities including the capital of Tehran and Kermanshah.

In a good first step, the U.S. State Department announced Friday that the America “strongly condemns the arrest of peaceful protesters. We urge all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption.”

President Trump himself used his Twitter account to condemn the arrest of protesters in Iran, writing late Friday night: “Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching!”

Saturday afternoon he tweeted from part of his September U.N. General Assembly address where he specifically mentioned Iran:

However, while such statements are helpful, more is needed. Statements and tweets alone will not bring about a change of government in Iran.

The United States should next impose crippling economic sanctions targeting key institutions that act as a lifeline for the Iranian regime, in particular the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. The U.S. should also make it clear that Iran will face serious consequences if protesters are suppressed violently.

Slogans targeting the Iranian regime’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, show that resentment is giving way to anger and that the regime is more vulnerable to losing the consent of the governed than many Western analysts may have thought.

As a political gesture, the Trump administration should also formally recognize the Iranian people’s right to regime change and the legitimacy of the organized resistance that is pursuing this goal.

The latest nationwide demonstrations are indicative of fierce discontent and growing frustration with the Iranian regime’s corruption, incompetence and badly misplaced priorities.

The demonstrations have proven beyond doubt that the welfare of Iranians was never going to improve after the 2015 agreement that lifted worldwide economic sanctions against Iran in return for actions designed to halt the nation’s development of nuclear weapons.

Thanks to the lifting of those sanctions, Iranian companies linked to the government and the Revolutionary Guards are reaping the rewards of reopened international trade. But the Iranian people face increasingly dire economic circumstances, prompting the demonstrations and sharp criticism of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

With slogans like “Death to the dictator, death to Rouhani,” and “Leave Syria alone; think about us instead,” – referring to Iran’s unpopular military intervention to prop up Syrian dictator Bashar Assad – protestors have demonstrated their frustration with the endemic culture of corruption in Iran.

Slogans targeting the Iranian regime’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, show that resentment is giving way to anger and that the regime is more vulnerable to losing the consent of the governed than many Western analysts may have thought.

There are plenty of reasons for the public anger against Iran’s rulers.

For example, according to Amnesty International, Iran alone accounted for 55 percent of all recorded judicial executions in the world in 2016. And according to a 2010 United Nations report: “Since the beginning of the 1980s the Iranian government has executed 120,000 of its opponents.” There have unquestionably been more executions since then. 

Tehran is the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism. As U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley put it Dec, 14: “Iran’s ballistic missiles and advanced weapons are turning up in warzones across the region. It’s hard to find a conflict or a terrorist group in the Middle East that does not have Iran’s fingerprints all over it.”

Unfortunately, America and its allies have pursued relations with so-called Iranian moderates since long before President Rouhani emerged as a player in contemporary Iranian politics. The result has only been a worsening situation for Western interests and also for the beleaguered people of Iran.

Contrary to the rhetoric of Iran’s rulers, the Iranian public is predisposed to democracy, seeks civil and political freedoms, and would prefer to be friendly with Western powers.

This constituency – the Iranian people as opposed to the Iranian regime – represents an important potential ally for the United States in efforts to improve the stability of the Middle East.

As the Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi put it: “Recent demonstration have once again proven that the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime and the establishment of democracy and the rule of people is a national and public demand.”

But American officials have put the U.S. relationship with opposition forces at risk time and again by pursuing back channel deals with Iran’s clerical rulers, while ignoring the voices of the Iranian people.

Each new protest against the rulers of Iran represents an opportunity to use the people’s resentment as leverage against the regime.

The Obama administration squandered valuable opportunities in the past – most notably during the 2009 anti-government protests in Iran, when Western powers turned a blind eye to the government’s brutal crackdown. It is time for this to change.                                                                                           

Activists have demonstrated courage by resisting the Iranian regime’s violent influence domestically, regionally and internationally. But the protestors still need foreign support to see them through to their ultimate goal – the establishment a genuine democracy in one of the world’s most volatile regions, and an Iran free from tyrannical, theocratic rule.

To its credit, the Trump administration has taken preliminary steps in the right direction by imposing comprehensive sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards, a leading perpetrator of domestic crackdowns and international terrorism.

The opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran and its leading constituent group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), are mobilized to safeguard the people’s rights in the Islamic Republic.

MEK activists have provided live reports of the new round of protests in Iran, and they have long been credited with providing the world with credible intelligence on Tehran’s activities, despite the tremendous risks involved.

As American officials look toward 2018, it is time for the White House to formally recognize the National Council of Resistance’s legitimate goal of regime change in Iran.

The resistance already enjoys bipartisan support in Congress and broad support from Western officials in North America and Europe. It also has an intricate and determined network of supporters inside Iran, as evidenced by the presence of MEK activists in the protests directed at the Iranian regime over the past year, including those now underway.

If the U.S. provides strong support to anti-regime forces in Iran, America will have the opportunity to strike a fatal blow against a dangerous and tyrannical government by leveraging the discontent on the Iranian street and closing ranks with those seeking to topple the regime.

President Trump should follow this course in 2018.