This is a pragmatic proposal from a conservative source, Reuel Marc Gerecht writing in the Weekly Standard, that has my full approval. My only question is: Why hasn't it already started? What are we waiting for?
...Ahmadinejad...never really practices taqqiyah, the very Iranian-Shiite art of dissimulation, which historically grew from the trials and tribulations that Shiites have endured in the much larger, often unkind Sunni Muslim world. Khamenei, Khatami, and Rafsanjani, all raised in a prerevolutionary culture accentuated by clerical training, seem to have a much easier time lying. They can shamelessly weave, dodge, and prevaricate. They can in their (usually small) inconsistencies give you hope.
With Ahmadinejad, however, what you see is what you get. Like a Southern sheriff from the sixties, he may be a mean bigot, but his ignorance and intensions are straightforward. This quality is an advantage because it clarifies basic issues.
Unvarnished, unsophisticated, hardened, and usually embittered by one of the most merciless wars of the twentieth century, and contemptuous of sinful, colorful, traditional culture, [Revolutionary Guards] are often men of sincere faith. They are pure as only men who've been scorched by war can be. They often cannot hear, let alone analyze, the outside world.
After looking at the various approaches to the challenge that Iran poses to Europe, the US and the rest of its neighbors, the writer advances a couple of simple, equally straightforward responses to the situation in Iran that are so obvious one wonders why they are not already underway.
So is there any reason Condoleezza Rice, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Burns, the NSC boss on the Middle East Elliott Abrams, and the public diplomacy czarina Karen Hughes can't regularly give speeches defending dissidents in Iran...and the institutions of free speech? The Persian service of Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty has been completely neutered. Is there a reason--other than the "grand bargain"--the United States doesn't have a surrogate radio service for a country President Bush calls one of the gravest threats we face in the world? Don't we want RFE-RL to develop an in-country network of sources...that can tell the Iranian people things the regime will not allow into the Iranian press? If the Iranian people deserve to live in freedom, and President Bush and Secretary of State Rice have both said that they do, why can't we fund and develop radio and television programs that continually reveal the ugly, corrupt, and violent side of clerical rule?
The regime in Tehran constantly tells us what it fears most: clerical dissent. Why can't American officials give speeches defending religious freedom in Iran? Ali Khamenei's Achilles' heel is that he is a politicized, pathetic religious "scholar" ruling over a theocratic state where accomplished clerics, who don't believe at all in the political rule of religious jurisconsults, are silenced. This is the issue between Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq, and the school of Najaf behind him, and the clerical regime in Iran. The Clerical Court in Tehran is often a busy place because there have been a lot of refractory mullahs who think the regime is ruining the clergy and Islam. Hammer the point. Understandably, internal clerical politics may be a hard thing for nonspecialist senior officials to wrap a policy around. But it is critical to play on this if we intend to bring real pressure.
Remember: It's not what we think that is crucial. Our objective is to generate internal debate, which inevitably happens when the United States government decides to focus its attention inside Iran. Iranian society is quite open to the power of the American bully pulpit. Iranians may not have a very good idea at all about what is going on in Afghanistan, but they follow the United States. Given our advantages and their weakness, the overt side of American diplomacy is astonishingly weak.
Sounds right to me.
As the writer said, "things in Iran are probably going to have to get a lot worse before they can get better."
What could be lost?