Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh are wrong as usual, but in this piece they are also wildly irresponsible:
The Biden administration has now run into this buzzsaw of sexual politics and faith. If the president were wise, he would throw his lot in with Iranian women. Mr. Biden wasn’t going to stop the Iranian bomb in Vienna. Aligning American policy behind the rebels at least gives the administration a chance at regime change [bold mine-DL]. It also gives the White House a chance to restore American dignity.
It is not surprising that pro-regime change zealots see every event as an occasion to agitate for regime change, but they are as deeply mistaken as ever when they insist that pursuing this goal is the appropriate role for the US government. Leave aside the nuclear negotiations for a moment and ask whether it makes any sense for the US to insert itself into these protests. The Iranian government is already casting protesters as agents working on behalf of foreign governments, and Gerecht and Takeyh would like to lend credibility to those accusations.
In many cases like this, the wiser course of action is to refrain from becoming involved so that our government does not exacerbate the protesters’ difficulties and so that it does not create false expectations of more direct intervention down the road. The US should recognize the sharp limits on its influence in a country that our government understands very poorly and where it has not had a diplomatic presence in more than forty years. The US should not seek to exploit popular protests for destructive ends. There is nothing dignified about intruding into another country’s affairs in an attempt to topple its government.
Referring to protesters seeking redress of grievances as “the rebels” is a gift to the Iranian government, which would like nothing more than to dismiss them as “seditionists” and crack down even harder. Perhaps Gerecht and Takeyh understand that they are undermining the protesters by calling them rebels, and perhaps they don’t, but that is what they are doing. Talking about these protests as a means to achieve regime change plays into the hands of the state’s propaganda.
If the US started making policy with an eye towards using Iranian protesters as if they were pawns in a regime change policy, that would be deeply wrong and also likely to blow up in our faces. While the US can and should criticize the Iranian government’s use of violence against protesters, there is very little that our government could do that would be constructive and welcome inside Iran. Trying to hijack an Iranian cause to advance a fanatical interventionist goal is exactly what the US should never do.
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Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.