By Lord Maginnis of Drumglass
Uncontrolled decadence, secret police, torture, executions, and an agenda opposed by the people of Iran: Those factors are what brought down Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in February of 1979. More than 36 years later, those conditions remain familiar to Iranians throughout the country and abroad, as the current regime has proven itself to be even more barbaric. Further, the country's economy lies in shambles as the regime relentlessly pursues a fundamentalist Islamic agenda.
That radical agenda extends the Iranian threat far beyond its own people to neighbors in the region and, ultimately, to the West. Its involvement in Syria and Iraq, with military personnel on the ground, and its assistance to groups such as Hezbollah and, most recently, the Houthi group in Yemen, provide ample evidence of the escalation of Iranian ambitions.
Regretfully, Western powers have enabled the regime's expansion through their tolerance of leaders such as former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq and through the sweet talk they direct at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Iraq and Syria have descended into chaos. Moderating influences in those countries are under siege or have completely vanished. In Yemen, the recent Houthi offensive has pushed the country's Western-backed leader to resign, leaving chaos to descend on the country. This inaction has emboldened the Iranian regime and strengthened radical groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Though we're losing the battle at the moment, with a little resolve we could win the war on religious fundamentalism and usher in a new age of real democratic change to the region. Iran's unprecedented regional involvement is worrying, but it is also a sign of vulnerability. Just as the Nazis lashed out in a last-ditch effort during the infamous Battle of the Bulge, the Iranian regime is betting everything on its expanding regional influence.
Speaking at the recent funeral of a top Islamic Revolutionary Guards Force commander killed in Iraq, the Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, revealed the regime's desperation. In an uncharacteristically candid turn, Shamkhani told the crowd: "To avoid having our blood shed in Tehran, we must sacrifice our blood in Iraq and defend it." Simply put, Iran's influence abroad keeps it afloat at home.
Feeling the effects of sanctions and free-falling oil prices, the regime has taken a major gamble: It has increased the budget of the Revolutionary Guard by 50 percent, which is a multibillion-dollar investment. The fragility of the regime's grip on power is thus made clear, in word and in deed. Meanwhile, internal feuding among the regime's various factions worsens its position, making that fragility all the more evident.
In adapting policy to meet the increasing threats from Iran and the increasingly obvious vulnerability of the ruling religious establishment, the West should be seeking to develop proper relationships with those identifiable moderate influences who courageously pursue freedom and democracy. Mayram Rajavi, the president of one of those rare moderate groups, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), has consistently offered a voice of moderate and informed opinion. Yet the West stubbornly cuddles up to Rouhani while treating NCRI with something akin to disdain.
Rajavi suggests that we cannot make progress simply by playing one radical grouping off against the other while at the same time eschewing those who bring hope to the silent majority. According to Rajavi, only a policy that targets members of the Islamic State and al Qaeda while also confronting Syrian President Bashar al Assad and countering Iranian influence in Iraq will allow moderates to flourish. Those two camps of extremists feed off each other. A forceful policy that combats all radicals will help moderates thrive and gain political momentum.
Rajavi has consistently pointed out that terrorist criminality perpetrated by Iranian proxies in Iraq, Syria, and more recently in Yemen, is meant as much as anything to defend that fanatical regime's very existence at home. One should not make any mistake. The Nazis perpetrated their greatest crimes in the final phase of the war - at the very moment when they were most vulnerable and on the verge of defeat.
Tehran is vulnerable to the dissatisfaction and anger of its own people. When the Mullahs' regime implodes, the West should be prepared to embrace and support those who must first of all inherit the chaos. How can it hope to do that while it still courts Rouhani? Continuing the policy of appeasement and submitting to the status quo will only embolden a desperate clerical regime to commit further acts of terror and bring the war to the West.
Why, one must ponder, is the West so bereft of dignity and diplomacy that we continue to give a cold shoulder to those who are struggling for freedom? Surely there must be a better way to confront the Iranian regime and foster the circumstances that would expedite an essential Iranian revolution - a revolution that could overcome the barbarity that now pervades the Middle East.
This article first appeared in Real Clear World Blog