Standing Up for Freedom

FILE PHOTO: People rally in support of Iranian anti-government protests in Los Angeles, California, U.S. January 7, 2018. REUTERS/Monica Almeida/File Photo

For the tens of thousands of Iranian protesters who have taken to the streets across Iran to demand freedom, it’s déjà vu all over again. The last time Iran’s maltreated populace tried to break free from Islamofascism during the Green Movement in 2009, the mullah regime orchestrated a brutal crackdown with the tactical consent of the impotent West.

Almost a decade after that fateful, bloody summer, the Iranian people are still being held hostage by the same clerical regime. That’s right, President Hassan Rouhani is a moderate in name only, who proudly carries on the torch of Khomeinism.

Something has changed, however, in that a new man has entered the White House, giving protesters a fighting chance to stand tall in the face of absolute tyranny.

President Donald Trump has come down on the right side of history. Breaking with his predecessor’s appeasement policy toward Iran, Trump has firmly thrown his weight behind the people’s noble quest for freedom.

Meanwhile, the reactions of other Western governments have been at best scandalously muted, and at worst shockingly indifferent or even morally ambiguous.

The U.K.’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, said his government “regret[s] the loss of life that has occurred,” which sounded more like condolences to a tragic accident than a clear message to a regime mowing down its own citizens. His German counterpart, Sigmar Gabriel, drew an equivalence between the oppressed and their oppressors when he called on “all sides” to show restraint.

Europe’s moral myopia makes America’s leadership all the more critical. We can lead the way by burying, once and for all, the destructive myth brought to life by the Obama administration, that the mullah regime is a legitimate partner. By kicking the nuclear accord back to Congress, the president has taken a critical first step.

“Hungry” is a word protesters chant over and over again to describe the Iran of today. They are hungry because they are suffering from poverty, and they are hungry for freedom. Supporters of the nuclear deal predicted that the billions of dollars released to Iran from sanctions relief would inject new life into the ailing Iranian economy and usher in an era of political reforms.

But instead of bringing food to the table, the mullahs have exported chaos and destruction to the region — funding the killing fields of Syria, supporting the Houthi insurgency in Yemen, and building precision-weapons factories in Lebanon.

As much as we may like it to, the Iranian regime is not going to fall tomorrow. What is playing out on the streets of Iran is only the beginning of a long, painful process.

Iran’s clerical tyrants have survived mass demonstrations before. If the Iranians are to stand a chance in their fight against their oppressors, America must take concrete steps to hit the regime where it hurts. Some steps we can take alone; others we must take in partnership with our allies.

The U.S. and its allies must cut off the financial bloodlines the regime uses to fund its atrocities: The Central Bank of Iran, and the personal business empire of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

What is playing out on the streets of Iran is only the beginning of a long, painful process.

We must also work with social media giants WhatsApp, Telegram, Twitter and other platforms to prevent the regime from using their codes to identify and persecute activists with prolonged prison sentences or even death. It’s also important to work around the regime’s cyber-ban that cuts off Iranians from the outside world.

It is crucial to isolate Iran on the international diplomatic stage. European governments must no longer roll out the red carpet for the architects of the clerical regime in hope of lucrative business deals. And universities and media companies must no longer give Iranian officials a free pass as long as journalists, academics and activists remain in jail without due process.

In short, if Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, it must act as a normal country.

One cannot help but wonder how Iran would look today if the West, spearheaded by the Obama administration, had not been so accommodating to the Iranian regime in the summer of 2009. We need freedom-loving people everywhere to stand with the Iranian people and correct the mistakes of the past.

Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a pro-Israel-American think tank in Washington, D.C.