Ideas. Action. Results.

BPC’s Blaise Misztal: American support for the Iranian protests must go beyond rhetoric

The Hill

Monday, January 8, 2018


The recent eruption of protests in Iran has, predictably, split Washington in two, between those counseling silence and those urging vocal support. Both sides might think their approach best aids the protesters, but this debate about rhetoric of what the U.S. government should or shouldn’t say furthers neither the aspirations of the Iranian people nor the interests of the United States.

Proponents of silence worry that U.S. support will delegitimize the protests. But such concerns, when dealing with a totalitarian and mendacious regime, are misplaced. Dismissing opponents as foreign puppets is the oldest trick in the autocrat’s playbook.

Iran would and does accuse Washington of fomenting protests regardless of what U.S. policymakers say. While the Obama administration assiduously sought to stay out of a 2009 wave of protests that swept Iran, but Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s personal website nevertheless alleges they were a U.S. conspiracy. Similarly, Iran has already lodged complaints against the United States for inciting the current unrest.

But Iranians are not deciding the legitimacy of the protests, and whether they themselves should take part or not, on the basis of government propaganda. If they already harbor grievances against the regime, they are unlikely to be swayed by its pronouncements. Concern over lies that Tehran tells should hardly drive U.S. policy, rather encouraging and enabling Iranians to take their political destiny into their own hands should.