The Nuclear Deal and Iranian Dissidents
Victor Davis Hanson predicts all sorts of terrible consequences that will follow from the nuclear deal:
After the Iranian agreement, expect a world of nervous and angry allies, the end of dissent inside Iran [bold mine-DL], the spread of Iranian-sponsored terrorism, more nuclear states, a growing contempt for alliances with the West, and a new Middle East that may have to adopt appeasement to deal with a haughty Iran, flush with new cash and arms.
These predictions are ridiculous, but the one that seemed especially odd to me was the claim about “the end of dissent inside Iran.” Why would reaching an agreement on the nuclear issue with Iran’s government lead to the “end of dissent” in that country? Why would anyone reasonably expect that to be one of the effects of the deal? I ask that because the best evidence that we have suggests that most Iranian dissidents welcome the deal and the sanctions relief that comes with it, and they think that it could lead to an improvement in social and political conditions. They don’t assume that this must happen in the wake of a deal, but they seem convinced that it is possible and believe that it would not have been if there had been no agreement. A report from the International Committee on Human Rights in Iran found that a majority of the respondents in their survey expected improved political conditions:
61 percent of the respondents believe that reaching a deal on the nuclear issue “should facilitate progress toward greater rights and liberties” and that “the nation’s attention, previously monopolized by the negotiations, could now turn to critical domestic issues, among them, the state of basic freedoms in Iran,” according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
As the report’s authors went on to say, resolving the nuclear issue is “a necessary even if not sufficient requirement for any progress toward greater rights and liberties.” There is no guarantee that this progress will occur, but it is extremely unlikely that it could take place as long as the nuclear issue remained a point of contention between Iran and the major powers. One practical way that a deal is more likely to help Iran’s dissidents than it is to hurt them is through the sanctions relief that the deal secures. Sanctions relief should help Iran’s middle class to start to recover economically, and that in turn should aid Iran’s opposition over time. If sanctions had remained in place in the absence of a deal, that would have continued to weaken and undermine Iran’s opposition and to help the regime tighten its control. To believe Hanson’s prediction on this point, one has to assume that Iranian dissidents have a worse understanding of their own needs and of the internal political scene in Iran than he does, and that’s absurd.
I’ve mentioned before that Iran hawks aren’t really interested in what happens to the Iranian opposition, which is why they consistently back policies that harm them. Nonetheless, the same hawks are always eager to use Iran’s opposition as props in their arguments for more aggressive policies against Iran. Hanson’s column is a perfect example of that.