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Opinion | The GOP Debate and the Iran 'Insurgency' Illusion


14 Nov 2011 01:38Comments

Leading candidates appear to have little understanding of the Green Movement.

[ opinion ] Last night's GOP debate in South Carolina came at a time when the specter of a conflict between Iran and the United States and its allies is haunting the world. The current state of tension has been amplified by the recent IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program. Many viewed the foreign policy-focused debate Saturday as a chance for the Republican Party's presidential candidates to outline their vision regarding the country as well as long-term and short-term solutions for the mitigation of another costly conflict.

Sadly, that was not to be.

The candidate currently at the top of the polls, Herman Cain, staked out a convoluted position, saying he would "not entertain military opposition" while arguing for the deployment of "ballistic missile defense-capable warships" ready to be used "strategically" against Iran. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, who is just behind Cain in the polls and considered the favorite by many observers, along with Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum explicitly endorsed possible military engagement with Iran. The potential benefits of diplomacy were roundly ignored in favor of "crippling sanctions" -- Rick Perry declared that the United States should "sanction the Iranian Central Bank right now and shut down that country's economy" -- and, ultimately, a military approach that could result in the death of hundreds of thousands and cause trillions of dollars in destruction and collateral economic losses.

In addition to that, three of the candidates, including the two frontrunners, endorsed a strange foreign policy initiative -- the United States should have and must from now on help the Iranian opposition, but an opposition defined in very peculiar ways: Cain referred to the "opposition movement that's trying to overthrow the regime," Romney spoke of "insurgents," and Santorum spoke of "rebel forces."

Such references might well have confused informed listeners at first, who could easily have taken them to mean that the Republican Party supports the militant Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO), which remains on the U.S. government's list of foreign terrorist organizations. Those fears were dispelled when Romney clearly invoked the Green Movement as he described what he saw as President Barack Obama's failure: "What he should have done is speak out when dissidents took [sic] the streets and say, 'America is with you!'" This is when things went from confusing to downright discouraging.

Indeed, it was a tragedy that Obama didn't help the Iranian democracy movement in 2009. Among the steps that might have been taken, the United States could have provided opposition activists communication tools they could have used without fear of government detection; taken Iran to the United Nations Security Council over its human rights abuses and pressured its allies to force Iran to stop using violence against the protesters; and help activists escaping Iran -- like those now stranded in Turkey -- who could have served as a direct line of communication between the U.S. government and the opposition. But the fact that the Obama administration did not take such steps hardly makes it less disappointing to see that, two years on, the GOP's leading lights seem to have no idea that the Green Movement is not a rebel force.

Clearly, if candidates like Cain and Romney, who are spending millions of dollars on their campaign organizations, had hired advisers who were well aware of the situation in Iran, they would be able to differentiate between a movement that seeks to bring about change through peaceful demonstrations and one that puts stock in armed tactics. Or perhaps they have no interest in making such distinctions. As Ron Paul observed, "I'm afraid what's going on right now is similar to the war propaganda that went on against Iraq."

Sadly, the characterization of the supporters of the Green Movement as "insurgents" bent on "overthrow" proves yet again that leading Republicans and Democrats alike are blind to the value of options other than economic sanctions, military intervention, and meaningless Nowruz messages when it comes to Iran.

If helping Iran's opposition movement is an initiative the GOP is interested in, then it needs to get informed about the realities on the ground and the parties involved. Otherwise, the initiative endorsed last night is going to come across as nothing more than a soundbite drowned out by the candidates' desire to halt Iran's nuclear program through force of arms.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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