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Jewish World Review July 12, 2002 / 3 Menachem-Av, 5762

Michael Ledeen

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The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message | Over the last few days, Iran has been convulsed by physical violence involving hundreds of thousands of people, political developments of unprecedented magnitude, and a remarkable display of disciplined courage from the people of Tehran that recalls the final days of Milosevic's tyranny in Serbia.

The epicenter of the violence was Isfahan, where tens of thousands of the regime's young opponents fought with the militias who tried to quash demonstrations honoring the student uprising of 1999. At least half a dozen people were killed, scores hospitalized, and literally thousands were arrested in Isfahan and Tabriz, where similar insurrections took place. This was no peaceful demonstration; the people called for an end to the regime. And when the militias attacked, something quite new occurred: local police and even members of the Pasdaran, the "Guardians of the Revolution," shielded the opposition and even shot back at the militiamen. Nothing of the sort had happened in the 23 years of the Islamic Republic.

In Tehran, a few thousand students gathered at the university and were immediately attacked and dispersed. Several were severely wounded, and hundreds were carted off to face beatings and jail cells. Thousands of students — they claim 100,000, which is probably too high a figure, but in any case a substantial number — marched on the radio and television headquarters, only to be attacked by helicopters and the usual thugs. But as these events unfolded, the streets of the city were filled with enormous throngs of people — organizers claim several million, but it is impossible to confirm these numbers — stood and sat immobile, simply looking at one another as if to give courage to one and all.

These events seem to confirm that Iran has turned yet another corner in the relentless collapse of the mullahcracy that President Bush condemned so eloquently in his "axis of evil" speech. The people no longer fear the regime, and they are finding new ways to demonstrate their contempt. Under these circumstances, the regime can only last so long as its will to oppress and kill Iran's citizens remains firm, and we can already see major fissures in the edifice of the regime.

The most dramatic crack in the mullah's tyrannical regime came in Isfahan, where the Ayatollah Taheri, the imam of the city and the official representative of Supreme Leader Khamenei, resigned his post and released a five-page letter explaining his motives. That letter constitutes perhaps the most devastating attack ever unleashed against the regime of the Islamic Republic.

"I am embarrassed and ashamed," he wrote. "You cannot blame (the United States and the Shah) for the failures and corruption of our country. This has all resulted in our people turning away from Islam, rising unemployment, inflation, high cost of living, a "satanic gap" between the rich and the poor, an ailing economy, government corruption and addiction." He describes the regime as a vast mafia that responsible for "a failing foreign policy, corruption, bribery, brain drain, and the harassment and jailing of journalists and writers." These people, he said, "are riding on a stupid camel of power onto the field of politics." And worst of all, this mafia gang funds and supports vigilante forces who "continuously sharpen their dinosaur fangs of violence, with the hope of marrying their ugly, oppressive, fear-evoking bride of violence to religion."

The Iranian people believe that the open defection of Taheri is the beginning of the end of the regime. Perhaps it is wishful thinking; regime forces rounded up the top student leader, Tabarzadeh, and dozens of his associates and carted them off to torture cells in the capital. The complicit American news media in Iran have reported very little of the recent dramatic events, although you can easily piece together the overall picture by looking at the websites of the BBC, Reuters, and Radio France Internationale.

What the Iranian people most yearn for is an open embrace from Washington. Let us hope, therefore, that they do not read the transcript of a press briefing at the Evil Empire this week, a.k.a. the Department of State, where they would find these bloodcurdling exchanges:

QUESTION: Scheduled for tomorrow, there are supposedly going to be major demonstrations in Tehran. Does the State Department have a message for the demonstrators, given US interest in this recently?


QUESTION: You have no message?

MR. BOUCHER: We don't.

QUESTION: This is supposed to be a really big demonstration and, you know, the "axis of evil" speech from the President, un-elected few — (laughter) —

QUESTION: Is that the official US line?

MR. BOUCHER: That's the official US line. No, the official US line is, you know, we don't comment when people demonstrate. I mean, when do we give messages to demonstrators?

QUESTION: Well, no.

MR. BOUCHER: I guess — no, I remember. Bob Strauss went out the night that the Soviet Union fell out, fell apart, and he gave the liberty message to demonstrators. That's about the only instance that I can remember that we've been out there. Certainly in places as far away as Tehran, the idea that we would have a message every time there's a demonstration is a little far-fetched.

QUESTION: All right. Well, it's just I asked it because in the context that the President did call them a member of the "axis of evil" and mentioned the un-elected few. There's been a lot of talk about supporting the people who want democracy there, and you know, they're having a big demonstration tomorrow, so I thought it would be a nice way to.

MR. BOUCHER: Iran has been more and more open as time goes on, and we'll watch that process from afar at this point.

I know it reads like unrestrained satire, verging on slapstick. But it's real. Perhaps the best therapy for comrade Boucher is to lock him in a room and make him listen to the collected speeches of Ronald Reagan and read the collected works of Vladimir Bukovsky, Lech Walesa, and Natan Sharansky.

As for his bosses, who are supposed to turn the president's words into actions, I really don't know what to do. I'm as embarrassed as the Ayatollah Taheri, whose words and whose moral courage are so much more admirable than those of the State Department's leaders.

He's currently unemployed. Maybe he'd like to be Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs?

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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Tocqueville on American Character . Comment by clicking here.


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12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen