Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2005 / 2 Adar I, 5765
Iran: The Next Nicaragua?
Iran, too, has staged phony elections to bolster the tyrannical
regime of the mullahs but while the Iranian people have voted
overwhelmingly for reform, they have gotten only more repression.
It's worth dwelling on the importance undemocratic regimes
attach to democratic window-dressing. By so doing, they signal an important
concession namely, that only elections can grant legitimacy to
In 1776, the idea that legitimacy can flow only from the consent
of the governed was, well, revolutionary. In 2005, it is axiomatic if
only imperfectly translated into action. Saddam did not claim that
dictatorship was superior to democracy. The mullahs, for all their religious
fanaticism, do not claim to have received the mandate of heaven to govern
Iran. All claim to be genuine democrats.
There is power in this insight. Recall the situation in
Nicaragua in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Sandinista regime was Marxist.
It came to power originally as part of a coalition elected after the fall of
dictator Anastasio Somoza. Once in power, the Sandinistas purged the more
moderate members of the coalition and began to build a Cuban-style
totalitarian regime. In 1984, they staged a phony election and declared
themselves re-elected. But as the United States began to apply pressure by
aiding the armed non-communist opposition (the "Contras"), and as the other
nations of Central America began to demand free and fair elections in
Nicaragua, the more cornered the regime in Managua became.
In the end, as the Soviet Union was collapsing and Eastern
Europe was breaking the shackles of a half century of repression, the
Sandinistas finally consented to hold truly free elections. It was the first
time a communist country had held a free election. It was also the last.
They were defeated in a landslide (albeit one that caught liberals in the
United States by surprise).
President Bush's policy of promoting democracy around the world
has met with skepticism, even ridicule, among the so-called foreign policy
realists. But consider the psychological jolt the elections in Iraq,
Afghanistan and the Palestinian Authority have sent through the body politic
of the Middle East. No citizen of Iran, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia,
Lebanon, Kuwait or a half-dozen other countries in the region can be
indifferent to the spectacle of Iraqis drafting and approving their own
constitution. Nor can he ignore the rapid progress that a freely elected
Mahmoud Abbas is making toward peace with Israel.
Iran can be the next Nicaragua. Like Nicaragua, Iran is now
bordered by more than one free (or soon to be free) country Turkey, Iraq
and Afghanistan. Like Nicaragua, Iran is a human rights nightmare. Amnesty
International, Human Rights Watch and the U.S. State Department have
repeatedly cited Iran for abuse, torture and murder. As Michael Ledeen
reported in National Review Online: "Hundreds of democracy advocates are
being tortured in Iran's prisons. Tens of thousands have been killed in the
past six years, beginning with the mass murders of protesters in 1989.
Public executions are commonplace, and women are routinely executed by
stoning." A 16-year-old mentally retarded girl was recently hanged for
And like Nicaragua, Iran has an enormous internal opposition.
Sen. Rick Santorum is working on legislation to commit the United States to
support the democratic opposition in Iran. Let it be open and forthright, as
was Reagan's aid to the Contras.
President Bush has already offered a psychological boost by
telling the Iranian people in his Inaugural Address that the United States
stands with those who fight for freedom everywhere. Those words alone were
enough to send thousands of Iranians into the streets. In the dark corners
of Iran's prisons, there must be thousands of prisoners who like Natan
Sharansky, who thrilled to hear Reagan's speeches on freedom while he
suffered in a Soviet prison now believe that there may yet be hope for
them and their beleaguered country.
Ledeen suggests the next logical step: Demand a free and
internationally supervised referendum on the mullahcracy. If Europe, Iran's
neighbors and the United States join in pressuring the regime to prove its
legitimacy with a truly free vote, Tehran may have to succumb.
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