Leaning Forward on Iran – the World is Watching
Once again, the Trump Administration showed in one more way why it is 180-degrees from the Obama Administration in terms of foreign policy and national security. As peaceful protests against the Iranian theocratic and despotic regime occurred in Iran this week, the White House and State Department issued a statement supporting the protesters and bluntly stating that it “strongly condemns the arrest of peaceful protesters.”
Not since 2009, and the promising opportunity for change by the Green Revolution aka the Green Movement, the Green Revolution, or the Persian Awakening uprisings — only to be ignored by President Obama — suddenly in the past week, Iranians once again took to the streets of the capital of Tehran, and across Iran, after demonstrations erupted in the city of Mashaad last Wednesday.
On Friday, the White House, the State Department, and President Trump himself via Twitter, warned and condemned the Iranian Government about their escalating response to the peaceful protests which were critical of the current economic situation and the government’s handling of Iranian economy, as well the forthcoming elections.
The State Department’s support of the protesters challenging the Iranian regime are a welcome sign after the Obama Administration’s timorous and deliberate reaction when Iranian reformers launched their Green Revolution on June 12, 2009 after the announcement that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been re-elected as Iran’s president.
In a statement by The White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders emphasized to Iran that the world is watching as protesters inside Iran continued to speak out against the government for a third day and counter-protesters gathered in cities across the country today, Saturday.
Over the last week we have seen escalating peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with the regime’s corruption and it’s squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad, the White House press secretary said in a statement released Friday night. Press Secretary Sanders emphasized that; “The Iranian government should respect their people’s rights, including their right to express themselves.”
President Trump later tweeted out a similarly worded statement.
Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching! #IranProtests
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2017
In the statement from the White House tweeted out by President Trump on Friday had urged Iran to “respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves” amid growing demonstrations.
On Friday Iranians gathered in the capital of Tehran and in the western city Kermanshah, protesting economic conditions. Witnessed video accounts show a wave of spontaneous protests over Iran’s weak economy and the nation’s economic conditions had swept into Tehran, with college students and anti-government protesters chanting against the government.
It should be noted that such mass protests without police permission are extremely unusual in Iran and those taking part automatically face arrest under the totalitarian regimes laws and policy.
However, in response on Saturday morning, the Iranian government countered with pro-government instigated and orchestrated hard-liners rallying to support the country’s supreme leader and clerically overseen government. This of course was a propaganda-public relations response and reaction by Tehran to present an image to the world that the regime remains totally in control, the people support the government, and that it does not tolerate such anti-regime protests by the general public.
Internationally, and specifically for U.S. consumption, the Iranian government slammed President Trump for his ‘Deceitful’ Support of the Protesters. In an official statement, the Iranian government on Saturday lashed out at President Trump for his supporting the demonstrators for taking part in the wave of anti-government rallies. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, said the “Iranian people give no credit to the deceitful and opportunist remarks of U.S. officials or Mr. Trump.”
Officials have stated that as of today, over 450 demonstrators were arrested so far. The government on Saturday warned the public against attending “illegal gatherings,” saying they will “create problems for themselves and other citizens.”
Further, the State Department also late Friday offered both publicly and through diplomatic and clandestine channels support to the protesters. In a statement it said that; “Iran’s leaders have turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos”. As previously noted, the protests which are economic focused began midweek in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city and a holy site for Shiite pilgrims. The demonstrations continued have throughout the weekend with hundreds of students and anti-government reformists protesting at Tehran University, in the city of Kermanshah and elsewhere.
President Trump, since at least the start of his 2016 presidential campaign, has been critical of the Iranian leaders, arguing they have not fully complied with the 2015 international deal in which they agreed to curtail their pursuit of a nuclear weapon in exchange of the lifting of billions in crippling economic sanctions.
Likewise, President Trump, as a result has refused the recertify the deal, brokered by the Obama administration. He has also been critical of the authoritarian and totalitarian governing of the Tehran regime and its extreme restrictions of freedoms on its citizens, and of course Tehran being the world’s number one sponsor of radical Islamic terrorism, and the regime’s responsibility for a large amount of the instability across the Middle East. This is most notably evidenced by the fact that Tehran has been involved in a proxy war with Saudi Arabia in Yemen for the last three-years, and its heavy influence inside Iraq.
Strategically, to ensure wide-spread turn out, anti-government protests were orchestrated and sparked largely through the use of social media, which are also taking place amid previously planned pro-government rallies that have drawn a reported 4,000 people. Nevertheless, independent reporting sites indicate that crowds of protesters were much higher ranging from 6,000 to 10,000, and equal to those observed during the initial 2009 protest uprisings. There were also verifiable reports of similar gatherings in other major population centers, such as Rasht, Ghazvin, Qom, Esfahan, and Hamadan. Iranian state media said that police in the capital Tehran had arrested 40-50 individuals for holding an unsanctioned rally there, which is particularly notable given the country’s well established internal security apparatus. But as noted that number actually exceeded 450 arrests.
Further, numerous accounts from a number of social media videos show clashes between protesters and police. The semi-official Iranian Fars news agency said protests on Friday also struck Qom, a city that is the world’s foremost center for Shiite Islamic scholarship and home to a major Shiite shrine. The demonstrations appear to be the largest to strike the Islamic Republic since the Green Movement in 2009 after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected as president. It appears that the rapid spread of public outcry was something authorities had not expected to occur even after the initial protests in Mashhad and elsewhere in the eastern regions of Iran. There are various reports, though, that indicate that Iranian police and other government para-military type forces and organizations, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Basij volunteer paramilitary militia, have swiftly moved out to crack down on demonstrators, potentially with lethal force. Remember in 2009, the regime brought in thugs from Hezbollah to suppressed and brutalize protestors. Many of whom were never seen again.
However, while we know as of earlier this weekend over 450 were arrested, information about any arrests pertaining to the most recent protests remains scarce because neither state-run, nor the semi-official media and news agencies in Iran have provided limited reporting only to focusing the staged pro-government demonstrations designed to suggested the population overwhelming supports the regime. Again, this is all propaganda. While police have arrested some protesters, the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates have not yet intervened as they have in other unauthorized demonstrations since the 2009 election.
To prop up the regimes claims, while there are reports that Iran claims its economy has improved since the nuclear deal, that remains questionable and also raises question about who has benefited. Nevertheless, while billions have been delivered or has flowed in money and economic driven improvements have not reached the average Iranian and official inflationary figures indicate that it has crept up by 10-percent. Noticeably, for basic staples; the price of eggs and poultry has increased by as much as 40-percent. And of course, the regime immediately placed blame elsewhere. Recent Iranian domestic propaganda reports suggest the government appears to have blamed the spikes in prices on fears about avian flu contamination.
Enter the Trump administration, to which most have failed to recognize the diplomatic signals that have been sent so far. That coupled with the disregard and lack of understanding to recognize the key aspects of the Trump Doctrine/U.S. strategy toward Iran. Realize President Trump and his team talks little about what is going on. But it must be understood that it is necessary in the grand scheme to comprehend that every aspect of U.S. national power will be addressed and as necessary be brought to bear to support implementation of such a policy. Certainly, the inner-workings of the Trump strategy with the Iran Nuclear deal are tied to by-laterally to our policy, as well multi-laterally and regionally. The decision to either totally scrapping or to just decertify the agreement was pivotal. While one preserves access which is of course pivotal to monitoring the alternative, eliminates it completely. Access is necessary for both monitoring, as well as implementation of other capabilities. Likewise, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress this past June in his closed door testimony that the U.S. was working toward “support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.” Of course, that statement has been used by Iran as being a sign of foreign interference in its internal politics. Those in the know will understand the lineage and linkage in the pros and cons of our overall policy and how all aspects of such compliment and or work together, even when they are compartmented.
Likewise, at the same time, Iran’s Foreign Ministry has dismissed the comments. And the state-run IRNA news agency quoted ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi as saying; “The noble Iranian nation never pays heed to the opportunist and hypocritical mottos chanted by the U.S. officials and their interfering allegations on domestic developments in the Islamic Republic of Iran”.
With that, and the Secretary of State’s comments last June, I can assure that there’s more to this story … a lot more. My assessment, and that is all that I can say about it as it pertains to the current situation, is that it is President Trump is finishing what Obama deliberately and intentionally didn’t.
Looking back on the Obama administrations lack of action, if you recall, on June 15, 2009 Obama would only say, “The world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was,” despite the widespread conviction that the election had been stolen. To better understand what transpired it is important to couple this with Obama’s overall stance on Islam and his Middle East regional policy or lack thereof. When Obama first came into office, he and his senior national security staff were briefed on current standing operations and intelligence findings worldwide. Being that Obama’s modus operandi was to not do anything to offend Islamists and certainly not the radical theocratic leadership in Tehran, he ratchetd-back…way back on the standing CIA plan to support democratic forces, in this case the Green Movement. Notably, a critically sensitive plan whose initial development had actually began early in the previous Bush administration.
It is important to note, as the Wall Street Journal’s chief foreign correspondent Jay Solomon wrote in his book, “The Iran Wars,” he notes that the White House instructed the CIA to deliberately refrain from giving any help to the Green Movement protesters. Essentially, this amounted to Obama directing the agency to “stand-down” seemingly a regular reaction to critical events for the Obama administration where U.S. resolve is at stake. In fact, in this case the White House directed the CIA’s Iranian Ops element to terminate and cease all contact with the Green Movement liaisons. Ordering the element operatives out of the country and pulling the plug on any chance of success. Certainly, it cost the lives of many partisans’ valent efforts to overthrow the hardline theocracy. Further, the order preempted the agency’s contingency plans for supporting democratic uprisings anywhere in the world. Failure to act is a mortal sin and a complete case of Intelligence malpractice. This includes providing dissidents with communications, money, and in extreme cases even arms. But again, in this case, the Obama White House ordered it to stand-down.”
Those plans had been in development since 2001, and the timing to conduct such a series of simultaneous uprising was critical. As we witnessed, roughly 20-years earlier in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the former Soviet states – where various degrees of covert and clandestine coordination, corroboration, secrecy and compartmented organizations are necessary, and all critical for such undertakings to succeed. How goes it this time in Iran, we shall see.
Nevertheless, despite Teheran’s necessary international response, the regime is extremely concerned. How concerned? Today, President Hassan Rouhani finally addressed the nation, but could not get beyond stating that the government supports peaceful protest, that may be a sign of desperation. Further, at the same time consider that the IRGC has begun jamming, or otherwise blocking access to international media outlets, many of which are covering the protests. The jammers are now attempting to also cut-off all cellphone signals, which protesters might use to coordinate their demonstrations and spread their message. And as of Sunday, the Iranian government has shut down all Internet access. Whether the IRCG mounts internal military action and Hezbollah is once again brought in, remains to be seen. But there is serious concern on the part of Tehran, which it must counter without inciting any escalation and bloodshed.
As of today, it remains difficult to gauge just how widespread the anti-government sentiment is among the protesters and how strong those feelings might be separate from the present economic situation, as well the overall regime level and effectiveness of its counter response. Not surprisingly, Iranian authorities have through its media outlets and propaganda network, without providing any evidence, have been quick to accuse outside actors of sparking the unrest as part of a larger plot to undermine the country’s radical theocratic government.
And of course, as a result, both on the streets and within diplomatic circles rumors abound claiming they are paid actors. There are even accounts claiming that the protests are a ploy by the country’s hard line political factions to undermine President Hassan Rouhani, who has also been a target of protesters. A moderate by the standards of Iranian politics, Rouhani has drawn criticism from the country’s conservative elements over plans for relatively modest increases in social freedoms and plans to increase foreign economic ties. In May 2017, he still managed to win a second presidential term, securing nearly 60-percent of the vote. While, this may be a propaganda effort to discourage anti-regime partisans from believing that external assistance will again not be forthcoming because this is an internal plot by the regime to consolidate, or that it is an external plot that has once again failed. Again, such remains to be seen. Again, though the momentum at this point appears to be escalating and the pressure is on the regime.
The most important point to remember is how this plays out and how it ends. Whether initially staged, spontaneous, or otherwise instigated — I tend to side with the latter, but that’s just me — the protests do seem to be growing exponentially on their own momentum now and could potentially draw the eye of foreign powers opposed to the Iranian regime. Whether that translates to additional support remains to be seen. But for now, and again, being raised is was this orchestrated by a foreign power(s) opposed to the Tehran run regime. Many believe perhaps, in particular, U.S. President Donald Trump and his administrations which has made the taking of a tough stance toward Iran a key part of America’s foreign policy agenda, announcing a new strategy toward the country in October 2017, and reiterating those plans within a new National Security Strategy earlier in December 2017. Again, we must wait and see.
And what role might Israel play in this? Notably, is there cooperation as the result of the recent U.S. – Israel signed secret pact earlier in December to counter Iranian nuclear threat. A necessary follow-up to President Trump’s recent renewal of U.S. support to Israel…the pact provides key efforts to counter Iran, dealing with Hezbollah, sharing intelligence, stepped diplomatic efforts, using information to put pressure on Iran, and monitoring Iranian nuclear violations … an agreement that enhances U.S., Israel’s and Middle East regional security.
Finally, President Trump made the effort to personally criticize his predecessor, President Obama, in the past for failing to back the popular uprising in Iran in 2009. Again as previously addressed and known variously as the Green Movement, the Green Revolution, or the Persian Awakening — there is a reason for that, and the President apparently now is following through. Similarly, those protests also erupted after a dispute over the Iranian presidential election that year. This time it’s the economic condition in Iran, but with Rouhani again being the target, primarily at least. This evening the situation is getting somewhat critical for the regime as the protests have increased, spreading far and wide across the country. Further, there are now reports of bloodshed and death at the hands of Iranian authorities. While, it remains unknown and whether the identity of who actually orchestrated the uprisings will ever be revealed and where any external support and implementation effort originated, may remain unknown, at least for now, the outcome will be critical in determining how the U.S. goes forward both regionally and internationally on its Iran policy.