Commentary Magazine


Give Bush Credit on Iran

Seven years ago, Reuel Marc Gerecht looked into the best crystal ball in all global strategy and wrote down what he saw in the pages of the Weekly Standard:

If the United States stays in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime, and ushers in some type of a federal, democratic system, the repercussions throughout the region could be transformative. Popular discontent in Iran tends to heat up when U.S. soldiers get close to the Islamic Republic. An American invasion could possibly provoke riots in Iran–simultaneous uprisings in major cities that would simply be beyond the scope of regime-loyal specialized riot-control units. The army or the Revolutionary Guard Corps would have to be pulled into service in large numbers, and that’s when things could get interesting. The clerical regime fears big street confrontations, afraid that it cannot rely on the loyalty of either the army or the Guard Corps.

And if an American invasion doesn’t provoke urban unrest, the creation of a democratic Iraq probably will. Iraq’s majority Shiite population, who will inevitably lead their country in a democratic state, will start to talk to their Shiite brethren over the Iran-Iraq border. The collective Iranian conversation about American-aided democracy in Iraq will be brutal for the mullahs (which is why the Bush administration should prepare itself for Iranian mischief in Iraq’s politics once Tehran determines that the Bush administration is indeed serious about ensuring a democratic triumph in Baghdad). The Bush administration should, of course, quickly and loudly support any demonstrators who hit the streets in Iran. America’s approval will not be the kiss of death for the brave dissidents who challenge the regime’s armed defenders. On the contrary, such psychological support could prove critical to those trying to show to the people that the die is now decisively cast against the regime.

More than a testament to Gerecht’s uncanny grasp of theocratic politics, the passage highlights the thoughtfulness of George W. Bush’s much maligned Iran policy.

Among Bush’s critics it has become accepted fact that “the big winner of the Iraq War is Iran.” There are several arguments to support this view: the invasion empowered the fanatical Shia of Iraq, who inspired their ideological brethren across the eastern border; difficulties in establishing order in Iraq hurt America’s image as a formidable military threat; the U.S., in turn, needed Tehran’s help in subduing Iraqi unrest; without Saddam to worry about, the mullahs were free to follow through on plans for regional hegemony. All these arguments could be supported by events that were actually unfolding in the region – once upon a time. Today, few of them hold water.

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