Commentary Magazine


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Iran and the Lebanon Precedent

It’s rapidly becoming conventional wisdom in certain quarters that the United States dare not come out in support for democracy activists in Iran. I’m not convinced.

When a million or so Lebanese took to the streets in Beirut on March 14, 2005 to demand the ousting of the occupying Syrian military regime in Lebanon, many feared overt American support would backfire against the demonstrators. President Bush vocally backed the dissidents anyway.

The “March 14” activists were, in fact, denounced as stooges of the Americans by Hezbollah and other pro-Syrian parties in Lebanon, but it didn’t matter. I met anti-Americans among the demonstrators, but none were mad that the Bush Administration supported them. His support actually eased their anti-American sentiment somewhat. “You are new friends of ours here in Lebanon,” one conservative Sunni Lebanese told me.

Nor did the president’s support make the Syrian military any more likely to beat civilians into submission. Nobody was killed, and the “March 14” movement won. “I am not Saddam Hussein,” Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad said. “I want to cooperate.” The Syrian military left Lebanon shortly thereafter.

Whether or not President Bush’s support for the “March 14” revolution helped very much, it certainly didn’t hurt.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is more dangerous than the occupying Syrian military, to be sure. It cannot survive by leaving Iran. There is nowhere else it can go. But that doesn’t mean it will be more likely to massacre Iranian civilians if the White House makes a firm statement. Iran is hemmed in on two sides by American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Strong support from the United States for the dissidents is just as likely, if not more likely, to make the Revolutionary Guard think twice before escalating.

And it’s frankly inconceivable that anti-Americans among the Iranian opposition will be angry at President Obama if he takes their side. It should and likely will anger them if he refuses and tacitly recognizes the legitimacy of the hated dictatorship they wish to replace.