Iranian Protests: Third Time’s the Charm?

Mike Coté

Mike Coté is a writer and podcaster focusing on history, Great Power rivalry, and geopolitics. He has a Master’s degree in European history, and is working on a book about the Anglo-German economic and strategic rivalry before World War I. He writes for National Review, Providence Magazine, and The Federalist, hosts the Rational Policy podcast, and can be found on Twitter @ratlpolicy.

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41 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    One of the tweets that I saw that struck me as interesting was a young woman explaining why she was willing to stand up to the regime. It was something to the effect of “there are so many things that you can do wrong, that you can never do right. You’re going to get in trouble anyway so get in trouble for standing up for yourself.”

    And I’m sure that I didn’t get that 100% right, but that’s the core of what I saw.

    The religious police over there are going to find out what police everywhere find out: use your authority poorly and you’d best start partnering up when you go out.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

      “You’re going to get in trouble anyway so get in trouble for standing up for yourself.”

      like the man said, “what’s the penalty for not wearing the proper clothes? and what’s the penalty for revolution? Well…Report

    • North in reply to Jaybird says:

      Sounds like a proverb I’ve heard ascribed to the Chinese.
      Two peasants were sitting under a tree. The first asks the second “What is the penalty for being late?” the answer “Death”. Then the first asked “What is the penalty for revolting?” the answer, again, was “Death”. The first peasant then said “I have news for you comrade- we’re late.”Report

  2. InMD says:

    Why on Earth are Israel’s foreign policy concerns relevant to US decision-making? They have their own nuclear deterrent and ongoing soft war with Iran which is their prerogative but the idea that they’re some kind of victim that should weigh into our considerations is absurd. They’re the regional big dog and on the best of days an unreliable ally to the US that at all times puts its own interests first, not to mention is itself slowly deteriorating into just another country in the region in thrall to its own religious zealots.

    Regarding the Iranian people I wish them well. I hope they can find a way to win, and put together a better government for themselves. However I can think of no better way to damage their prospects and legitimacy within Iran than the United States attempting to put its finger on the scales towards that outcome. We suck at it and no one in the ME finds us credible, for reasons that at this point I would think are completely understandable and obvious.Report

    • Chris in reply to InMD says:

      What’s more, the protestors themselves have been pretty up front about not wanting the U.S. to do anything for them.Report

      • InMD in reply to Chris says:

        Which is completely rational. If I’m a protester over there the worst thing that can happen for me and my cause is being cast as a proxy for the US.Report

      • Brent F in reply to Chris says:

        This is always it, which is why complaints about American leaders not publicly supporting them is more about domestic political chest beating rather than interest in getting rid of the Mullahs.

        Conflict with America strengthens the regime, they’re weakest when the issue is their own domestic failures. Making the protests seems like American proxies is bad for them and good for the regime. Therefore, a POTUS sticking is oar into the water is bad.Report

        • Chris in reply to Brent F says:

          The OP, like so many in this country, is clearly incapable of viewing anything happening anywhere in the world except through a cloudy and propaganda-filtered American lens, and worse, with the extreme tunnel vision of American conservatism.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

            “As protests against the Iranian regime escalate yet again, will the US stand against the totalitarian theocrats in Tehran or continue to appease them?”

            I mean, talk about a false dichotomy. This is the first thing written here and it entirely gives away the farm as to what perspective is (and what perspectives are not) represented here: one wherein America must be involved, must take a side, and there are only two sides to consider.Report

            • Brent F in reply to Kazzy says:

              I find what unites Americans across the political spectrum is a belief that decisions made by Americans are vastly more important to the fate of the rest of the world than they actually are.

              Quite a lot of this stuff isn’t about these little dramas going on in Washington. Also , ironically America is a lot more effective at exerting the power it does have when its more conscious of this.Report

    • Philip H in reply to InMD says:

      Why on Earth are Israel’s foreign policy concerns relevant to US decision-making?

      This. This fully and completely. Because our continued engagement with the secular government of Israel makes a mockery of this statement by the OP:

      We cannot in good conscience negotiate with a regime that is in the process of massacring its own people for the ‘crime’ of dissent, and we especially cannot allow that regime a nuclear weapon free and clear.


  3. Philip H says:

    I love it when neocon hawks come around and start thumping their chests about how what hasn’t worked in dozens of cases over the last 50 years will now work in Iran. To wit:

    We should level punishing sanctions on Iran’s leaders, economy, and industry; they should cement Iran as the international pariah it is and make trading with it immensely difficult.

    Because that worked so well before.

    We should be using our covert and cyber operations skills to undermine the regime and its ability to repress Iranian civilians.

    Because you have public, credible information that we aren’t doing this?

    Targeted assassinations, along the lines of the drone strike which killed Soleimani, should be on the table for any Iranian official who coordinates this oppression.

    No. We don’t need to assassinate anyone – because in this case you are talking about dozens and dozens of people in Iran. That level of assassination campaign would make us on par with Russia, where anyone Putin dislikes presently is falling out of a hospital window.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Philip H says:

      That level of assassination campaign would make us on par with Russia, where anyone Putin dislikes presently is falling out of a hospital window.

      Or worse! We’d be no different than the religious police who killed Mahsa Amini!Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Philip H says:

          No. It’s not.

          There is a difference between pushing little old ladies into the path of a bus and pushing them out of the path of a bus.

          And saying “you’re just pushing little old ladies around in each case!” ignores some seriously important facts.

          There might be some very good reasons that we should not get involved. What it will do to lower our obvious moral standing is not among them.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Philip H says:

      “We should level punishing sanctions on Iran’s leaders, economy, and industry; they should cement Iran as the international pariah it is and make trading with it immensely difficult.”

      Because that worked so well before.

      Well, South Africa.Report

      • Philip H in reply to Pinky says:

        I was referring to all the post-1979 sanctions leveled against Iran, which have yet to produce regime change or any shift in the Iranians approach to governance.Report

        • Pinky in reply to Philip H says:

          You were referring to dozens of cases over the last 50 years. You specified then that these ideas were being applied now to Iran, implying that you were including or even exclusively discussing cases other than Iran.Report

  4. LeeEsq says:

    The Iranian leaders have just enough support to be able to crack down on the protestors. My understanding is that they are popular in the rural areas and the rural areas are populated enough to keep them in power. You are going to need a total revolution to get rid of themReport

  5. Chip Daniels says:

    As ever, imagine if we discussed the Iranian protests, or Bishop Kiril, the way we discuss the DeSantis regime or The Christian Nationalists, or vice versa.

    What might an argument in defense of the Muslim theocracy sound like? Would it sound familiar, and hit many of the same notes as ones we see everyday here?

    Is there a Persian Liz Bruenig, or a professor from Tehran equivalent to Adrian Vermeule?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      I imagine that comparing the protests to the government would be comparing apples and oranges.

      Have there been any major street protests in the US in the last couple of years that we could look at?Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

        Are any of your or my comments about the George Floyd protests applicable here?Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:


          Are any of yours?Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

            Probably all of them.

            Which is my point, that we often view others countries in stark simple terms, overlooking that they are just as morally complex as our own.

            Like I’ve said many times, we like to imagine “if I were in Berlin in 1933, why, by golly, I would boldly stand up for what’s right!” forgetting that “what’s right” is always shrouded in controversy and ambiguity.

            In case anyone thinks I’m making the case for relativism, it’s exactly the opposite.

            That we shouldn’t let the smoke and chaff of current affairs blind us to what is right.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              Does this lead us to arguing that we haven’t seen any evidence that morality police unions have more violence than morality police that don’t have them?

              Does this lead us to arguing that the morality police need to be reformed?

              Where does this lead us in the current year?

              I mean, for my part, my sympathies are with the people protesting rather than with the morality cops.

              And that’s without getting into issues involving property damage. (All of the violence that has made it into twitter is violence against the morality police who were stupid enough to get separated from their brethren rather than showing protesters breaking windows.)Report

            • Pinky in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              You seem to be arguing that we should judge other countries before we understand them. Like your recent comments about Italian politics. Or actually, maybe your argument is that we should take less time to understand our own country before judging it.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Statistically speaking there has to be an Iranian equivalent of Liz Bruening or Adrian Vermeule. One of the defenses of religious modesty clothing I’ve seen from a kind of feminist prospective is that it prevents women from having to be sexy and please men. It deflects the male gaze, etc. I don’t think this is entirely correct because you can usually tell who has a good figure underneath and during the High Pandemic, I saw masks as kind of an intriguing for the imagination.Report

  6. North says:

    I’m happy to see that the unalloyed neocon viewpoints are being represented here for the purpose of giving everyone a voice in the conversation- no matter how laughably wrong a given voice may be.

    Taking the over all post as it is, a neocon tract, I’ll grant I’ve read far worse. I can’t help but call out the section on the JCPOA for its mendacious misrepresentations. No, Mike, the JCPOA was working, as intended and negotiated, to verifiably prevent Iran from advancing towards a nuclear weapon. Iran was, by and large, complying with its obligations within the JCPOA and Trump then idiotically and unilaterally walked away from the deal reneging on it and brutally spiking America’s international reputation. As a result of Trumps actions Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than ever while Trumps “Maximum pressure” policy, which you describe as successful, has so far failed to cause regime change or curtail Irans adventurism in its neighborhood. So, we traded Iran’s being kept concretely away from a nuclear weapon for… nothing except a blot on America’s reputation. Successful indeed.

    As for your policy prescriptions, they seem on part with the quality of your analysis. No doubt if Iran demonstrates that is has developed a usable nuclear weapon, you’ll pen a post here admitting that Trump, and you, were wrong to walk away from the JCPOA and dumped a terrible solution into Bidens lap. No doubt you’ll write such an article from your chalet on Mare Crisium after you flap your arms and fly to the moon. Likewise, I have no doubt the US has the capacity to execute assassinations, drone strikes and other meddling in Iran without undermining anti-regime demonstrators. Maybe the drones and spooks will even be greeted as liberators!Report

    • Chris in reply to North says:

      “Why has our extra-judicial killing of several leaders, effectively an act of war, not inspired the people to remove the rest of them from power? It makes no sense!”Report

      • North in reply to Chris says:

        “Sure our drone attacks took down some wives and children with the main targets and one of our targets turned out to be a janitor but in the former case they knew what they were signing up for when they chose to be married to/born to Islamic tyrants and in the latter case, well you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.”Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Chris says:

        Havana, Cuba 25 Nov 2027:

        Today an administration spokesman announced that it has successfully eliminated several terrorist leaders in a drone strike in the remote ungovernable tribal lands of the Florida Panhandle.
        A video was released showing a drone cam flying into a Dodge Ram pickup with a Confederate flag and adorned various talismans, what are locally called “truck nutz”, driven by a senior radical cleric named Reverend “Buck” Monroe of the Yee Haw Light of Jeebus congregation.

        The action was taken after repeated failures by the DeSantis regime to control bombings and attacks on abortion centers and children’s hospitals offering supportive care for trans youth. After the 2022 liberalization of Cuban abortion and LGBTQ laws, many desperate American women and transmen and transwomen have been making risky boat voyages to Cuba seeking freedom. But many of these refugees have been attacked and vilified by radical religious extremists such as the YeeHaw Jeebus adherents.

        “We can no longer stand by while terrorists launch attacks on innocent civilians who are seeking freedom”, the administration declared.Report

        • Chris in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          This hypothetical scenario is funny, but Iran is literally doing what OP called for today: they launched a bunch of missiles and drones to attack Kurdish targets in Northern Iraq, targeting individuals/groups/locations that Iran has labeled terrorists, and we have condemned the attacks as a dangerous threat to innocent lives and the stability of the region, as I’m sure the OP would as well.Report

  7. CJColucci says:

    No government on this earth has either the power or the moral authority to base its foreign policy on the general redress of wrongs. It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that the current regime in Iran is awful. And if the Iranians get rid of it — and manage not to replace it with something worse in the process — we should all cheer. But our practical ability to bring about this happy state of affairs is extremely limited. We have hit Iran with punitive sanctions consistently since the late 20th century and gotten — well, what? If anyone wants to go to war with Iran because it’s awful, have the stones to say so — and see how willing the American people are to sacrifice American blood and treasure to solve the internal problems in Iran. As for other measures, I’m reminded of an embattled governor who told one of his supporters: “I’ll come into your district and campaign for you or against you. Whichever you think would help.” Any reform movement in Iran that even smells as if America is behind it will fail for just that reason.
    Operating on the world stage means you often have to do business with a**holes. But you don’t have to sleep with them. The nuclear negotiation with Iran is doing business with a**holes, not sleeping with them. We’re not doing it to be nice to Iran; we’re doing it because it is in our interest. And it is even more in our interest the worse the Iranian regime is. Stopping the negotiations would be cutting off our nose to spite our face. And we wouldn’t have to be negotiating at all if TFG hadn’t s**t-canned a working deal.Report