“I think we need to be much more aggressive in supporting civil opposition to the regime in Iran,” Bush said. “I was saddened to see how the Obama administration handled the post-election revolution on the streets [bold mine-DL], that was not necessarily related to the election, but it was related to this desire for freedom. It seemed like we were very tepid, at a time when we should forcefully support freedom.”
Bush’s statement is revealing in a few ways. First, he demonstrates here that he didn’t understand the protests in 2009-10, which he calls a “post-election revolution.” That implies that he thinks that toppling the government was the goal of most of the protesters, but it was not. That is a common, misinformed view of what the Green movement protests were, but Iran hawks typically endorsed this interpretation because they wanted to imagine that a great “opportunity” to hasten the end of the regime had been “missed” by the dithering Obama.
Shortly after his remarks about the “revolution,” Bush also endorsed continued and “strengthened” sanctions on Iran. Since the sanctions have done a great deal to undermine and harm the Iranian opposition, it is telling that he wanted to impose additional sanctions while claiming to be saddened by the the lack of U.S. support for the protesters. Punitive measures and threats from foreign governments benefit the regime and allow it to shore up its position at home. As Peter Beinart noted earlier today, Iran hawks claim to support Iranian political reformers and dissidents while backing policies that make political and economic conditions much worse for them. He wrote:
But they should also remember that imposing sanctions and threatening war rarely strengthen human rights. It’s usually the reverse. First, threats of war make it easier for dictators to discredit their opponents. In Ganji’s words, “The Islamic Republic’s dictatorship used the threat of military action [from Israel and the United States] to increase its repression of the Iranian people, accusing the opposition of treason and being turncoats.” Second, sanctions tend to impoverish the very middle class best able to create and sustain democratic change.
Bush is hardly unique in offering lip service to Iran’s political opposition while favoring the policies that help to weaken them, but these statements pretty clearly put him on the side of Iran hawks that think the U.S. should be in the business of trying to foment an uprising against the Iranian government. Bush said that the U.S. should “forcefully support freedom,” and I take that to mean that he thinks the U.S. should be actively involved in trying to subvert and overthrow the regime. The fact that he thinks this is an expression of “who we are as a nation” just makes his position that much more worrisome, since he seems to approach the idea of toppling a foreign government with the same simplistic, ideological enthusiasm that characterized his brother’s own costly and destructive pursuit of regime change. Because Bush now pretends not to have a position on U.S. support for regime change in Iran, it is even more important to remember what he was saying on this subject just a few years ago.