Regime Change in Iran? : Applying George W. Bush’s “liberation theology” to the mullahs. (Reuel Marc Gerecht, 08/05/2002, Weekly Standard)

Stepping away from the “realist” world of his father–where a vision of regional stability, not a belief in individual liberty and democracy, drove foreign policy–George W. Bush has sliced across national borders and civilizational divides with an unqualified assertion of a moral norm. The president declared, “The people of Iran want the same freedoms, human rights, and opportunities as people around the world.” America will stand “alongside people everywhere determined to build a world of freedom, dignity, and tolerance. . . . America affirms . . . its commitment to helping those in captive nations achieve democracy.” These are, at least to Iranian ears, truly revolutionary words for an American president. One has to go back to Woodrow Wilson to find an American leader who so clearly directs his message far outside the West. And Wilson’s call for self-determination, made in the declining years of European empire, addressed collective, “national” ethnic aspirations more than the liberal rights of individuals.

Though the president’s “liberation theology” is obviously a work in progress (as, if we remember, was Reagan’s), the philosophical borders of the president’s views are sufficiently clear that it will be difficult for those in his administration and in the media who are disturbed, if not terrified, by Bush’s creed to walk back the policy. They will, no doubt, try. The State Department of Colin Powell will endeavor to introduce a bit of opaqueness into the discussion, striving to keep open the possibility, deeply cherished, it strongly appears, by the director of policy planning, Richard Haass, that U.S. and Iranian officials can somehow sit and talk. For State, sitting and talking with foreign dignitaries is usually an end in itself, imbued with a non-negotiable moral goodness. (Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer will, of course, have the unenviable task of articulating the contradictory public truces between State, the Pentagon, and the White House, which will make it appear that the president is trying to alter his original language, if not his intent.) And the president may well be lazy, cautious, or somewhat confused about turning his ideals into a consistent, effective policy. For example, preaching liberty, the rule of law, and democracy for Palestinians on only one bank of the Jordan river is an odd, if not unsustainable, rhetorical position. Yet despite the unorthodox, public way foreign policy is being made, and unmade, in this administration, it seems clear that the president isn’t going to stop his Reaganesque approach. The possible contradictions in the president’s actions are unlikely to blunt the revolutionary edge and appeal of his message in the Middle East.

You have to wonder–once the process of liberalization gets started, as it did in Afghanistan–how long any of the authoritarian regimes of the Middle East can withstand persistent pressure, both rhetorical and military, from the United States. We always underestimate the power of the call of freedom, which is why the rapid collapse of the Iron Curtain came as such a shock to people. But on the second anniversary of 9/11 it seems entirely possible that more liberal regimes will be in place in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Palestine and even in Syria and Saudi Arabia. In twenty years we may understand the events of 9/11 to have been nothing more than the final wild death thrashes of a venomous snake. And just as Afghanistan was the burial place of Soviet dreams of world domination so may the Islamic Revolution have expired there.

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