At the moment, Iran’s opposition is far less unified in its goals than the Egyptian opposition was during its protests. Some factions want only to reform Iran’s theocracy, while others (particularly the younger activists) want to dismantle supreme clerical rule altogether and establish a parliamentary democracy. The West’s endorsement of the movement could strengthen Iran’s opposition as a whole but only as long as Washington does not talk of trying to supplant the regime with a Western-style democracy. ~Geneive Abdo
I don’t find Abdo’s arguments for Western support of the Green movement all that convincing, but that is nothing new. Abdo does make the point here that I have been trying to make in the past week, which is that the Iranian opposition is not united around a single set of objectives. Since there is even greater ambiguity about what Western governments would be supporting by supporting the Green movement than there has been in supporting Egyptian protests, that would seem to be another reason not to express public support for the movement.
Abdo’s next point is very strange:
Washington’s public support, moreover, would deprive the Iranian regime of one of its weapons: anti-Americanism. For example, the Iranian government has tried to convince its people that U.S. sanctions are designed to hurt them, not the regime. Some Iranians have been left believing that the United States cares more about security issues — in particular preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon — than their well-being. But far from wanting the United States to back off entirely, a majority say that they would like closer ties with the West, according to a recent poll from the International Peace Institute.
Whether or not the sanctions are “designed” to hurt the people, the more effective that sanctions are in inflicting damage on a country’s economy to pressure the government the more that the people are bound to suffer as a result. As sympathizers with the Green movement have pointed out in the past, the regime will make use of anti-American rhetoric regardless of what the U.S. does, but that is why actual, direct U.S. support for people who are already being denounced as “seditionists” is all the more unwise. As long as the opposition isn’t receiving American support, the “seditionist” charge is that much harder for undecided Iranians to take seriously. Lending the government’s public support to the Iranian opposition is akin to confirming regime propaganda. During the 1990s, the Clinton administration frequently claimed that it was not opposed to the people of the various countries it was bombing, but was opposed only to their governments. Very often, the result was that the people suffered from what were supposed to be purely “anti-regime” actions. Making this distinction did not lessen the resentment at U.S. interference, and it did not deprive the other government of the ability to rally support with anti-American propaganda.
The reality is that the U.S. does care more about security issues than the well-being of Iranians. It isn’t hard to see that the main reason why so many Westerners have been cheering the Green movement is that they continue to be under the impression that the Green movement offers some sort of magical political solution to disagreements with Iran. As Westerners have come to see that the Green movement offers them no such quick fix and never would have, they have lost interest in the movement’s fortunes. Many Westerners seem to be shocked to find that the opposition is actually filled with Iranians, and that it doesn’t see security issues in the same way that we do.
Iranians do want closer ties with the West, but that isn’t the same thing as saying that the Iranian opposition wants the U.S. government to embrace it publicly. Oddly enough, calls for supporting the Iranian opposition are the sort of thing that would make it harder to build the closer relations that Iranians want with the West. Western agitation on behalf of one faction in Iran is one of the things that makes the possibility of improved relations with Iran that much more remote.
If the United States makes clear that it condemns repression and supports the aspirations of the Iranian people, it could inspire young non-ideological Iranians — who have much in common with their Egyptian counterparts — to confront the security forces.
Yes, and that could lead to a large number of them being killed when they confront those forces. These protesters might confront the security forces in the false expectation that this outside support means something more than public statements of solidarity. This is the kind of “support” that the Iranian opposition could do without.