In 2009 the Obama administration offered only tepid support to the Green Movement uprisings in Iran, something Hillary Clinton later described as her biggest regret as Secretary of State. While carefully crafted expressions of solidarity with the people, but not incitement, are good for posterity, given Washington’s meager leverage over Tehran such statements likely have only limited impact (In contrast to official statements about authoritarian regimes over whom the policies that can inhibit the regime’s coercive capacity and their ability to black out communications.
This dynamic—unarmed, unorganized, leaderless citizens seeking economic dignity and pluralism, versus a heavily armed, organized, rapacious ruling theocracy that espouses martyrdom—is not a recipe for success.
And yet, against this inauspicious backdrop, Iran’s mushrooming anti-government protests—although so far much smaller in scale than the country’s 2009 uprising—have been unprecedented in their geographic scope and intensity.
The United States should also mobilize global partners that do have working relations with Iran—including Europe, Japan, South Korea, and India—to add their voices of concern and condemnation to Tehran’s repression.
foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has been noticeably silent.
They’ve since spread to Tehran, and hundreds have been arrested, the reported, citing Iranian officials.
What triggered these protests is a subject of debate—some evidence suggests they were initially encouraged by hardline forces to embarrass President Hassan Rouhani—but what has fueled them have been the same grievances that power anti-government protests everywhere: rising living costs, endemic corruption, fraud, mismanagement.
For these battle-hardened forces, crushing unarmed Iranian protesters is a much easier task than fighting Syrian rebels or Sunni jihadists.
While some have expressed hope these protests might compel the Iranian government to try and address popular grievances, history shows us the opposite is more likely true.
In 2009—when an estimated 2 million to 3 million Iranians protested silently in Tehran—fewer than 1 million Iranians owned such a device, and few outside Tehran.
Today, an astonishing 48 million Iranians are thought to have smartphones, all of them equipped with social media and communication apps.
Given the opacity of the Iranian system and its inaccessibility to independent investigation, the days and weeks ahead are eminently unpredictable.