By: Soona Samsami
The voices of Iran’s people have long been missing from Western policy discussions on Iran’s ruling theocracy.
Since the early days of the Iranian Revolution, the U.S. and its allies have pursued a strategy of reaching out to supposed moderates within the regime, while focusing on a narrow set of issues to the detriment of human rights and the Iranian people’s struggle for democracy.
The Trump administration’s strategy of confronting the regime’s onslaught is a departure from this trend. In that speech and several others, President Trump has placed notable emphasis on the plight of the Iranian people, accurately describing them as the primary victims of the clerical regime.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the fact that the Tehran regime is the leading per capita executioner of its own citizens.
It remains to be seen how far Europe will follow the United States’ lead, but there is reason for optimism if the White House maintains the proper focus as it continues to develop and implement an “integrated strategy” for addressing all of Iran’s malign activities.
No one disputes the importance of the Iran nuclear file, whether they support the existing agreement or not. But many in Washington are gradually beginning to promote the view that the nuclear deal is not the most important issue, much less the only topic deserving of international attention.
With that in mind, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster has argued that the administration’s position differentiates the Iranian regime from its people. That is the fundamentally proper orientation for any strategic Iran policy. It enables an approach that confronts Tehran where it counts: its domestic vulnerabilities.
The next step is to recognize the fact that the Iranian people and their organized opposition can play a role in thwarting their oppressors. And of course, it is best for the world’s democratic powers to help them to do so.
Indeed, the Iranian people, and in particular the younger generation, were quite distraught over the decades-long U.S. policy of trying to placate their oppressors. The new tone has given them reason for optimism, which is reflected in the rise in protests across Iranian cities this year.
The administration’s terrorist designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is an important step toward freeing the Iranian people from the shackles that prevent them from rising up and demanding democratic governance and civic freedoms.
Aside from exerting control over vast segments of the Iranian economy, the IRGC has been instrumental in the suppression of domestic dissent, especially since the 2009 uprising, in addition to its more widely discussed contribution to regional instability, sectarian conflict and the proliferation of ballistic missiles.
Last month, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions against a number of IRGC commanders and affiliates. They should be expanded to all the individuals, companies and entities that are affiliated or deal with the IRGC or its foreign proxies.
These sanctions should also be broadened to include IRGC commanders controlling the suppression of popular dissent in Iran’s 31 provinces.
Sanctions on the IRGC can be expected to go a long way toward countering both of these trends, but they will be much more effective when they are backed up with reaching out to Iran’s organized opposition movement, which is leading the effort to overthrow the theocratic regime and establish true democratic governance.
Trump pointed to this potential outcome in his U.N. speech in September, saying that, “Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever and the day will come when the people face a choice.”
General McMaster has also highlighted the significance of regime change by the Iranian people, asking, “What could be better than an Iranian regime that is no longer fundamentally hostile?”
The Trump administration now has the opportunity to quickly address the gaps in its Iran strategy. After all, it is not sufficient to simply acknowledge the Iranian voices that have been ignored for so long.
The U.S. must actually listen to those voices calling for a democratic, non-nuclear, secular republic in Iran and stand on their side.
Soona Samsami is the representative in the United States for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is dedicated to the establishment of a democratic, secular and non-nuclear republic in Iran.