How Should We Help Iran?

Suppose that President Obama decides to support the revolution in Iran. You may say it’s unlikely, but you’d have said that the revolution itself was pretty darned unlikely, wouldn’t you? Events have a terrible logic of their own. Obama didn’t want to be called a “meddler,” he wanted to maintain some sort of political virginity with regard to Iran, but they called him by the “M” word anyway:

“…the (Iranian) government summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in Iran, to complain about American interference. The two countries broke off diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. An English-language state-run channel quoted the government as calling Western interference "intolerable."

So maybe he’s asking his experts what to do to help bring down the regime. What should they say?

1. The single most important thing is to get accurate information to the Iranian people about what is going on inside Iran. At the moment, they are depending on word of mouth and on Twitter, which is often very accurate and often very misleading. Because everyone knows that Twitter is the “social network” of this revolution, the regime is doing everything it can to shut down reliable tweeters and flood the network with disinformation. It’s a great technology, but sometimes it reminds me of my favorite bons mots on IT: “[T]he information revolution happened, and the revolution won.”

So they need a reliable source of information. The regime is doing its worst to jam radio and television broadcasts into the country. Surely we can beat them at that game, and while we’re at it, we should have an internal revolution of our own: replace the gang of apologists over at VOA Persian with some real Americans who believe in freedom.

Our best current option is Farda, the RFE/RL service operating out of Prague. Its website should be turned into an ongoing report on events in Iran. The (British) Guardian has such a site, which updates itself every minute around the clock. Farda has lots of sources all over the country; it should use them far more effectively than it is at the moment.

Some of us — notably Senator Tom Coburn — have been fighting for this sort of thing for years, to no avail. If the administration were serious, it could do a lot in a very short time.

2. We should be able to get some working satellite phones into the country, so that people can call out with up-to-date information, which we could then turn around and broadcast back to the Iranians. Once upon a time there was a CIA that could do such things; I doubt they are up to it today, but there are lots of businesses that can do it. Ditto for laptops, servers, etc.

3. Internet continues to work, despite regime filtering. A lot of Iranians are beating the censors by using a website that was set up to beat the Chinese filters. The website is in Chinese, but for several years the Iranians have been using it. The organizers of that site are perenially short of cash (here again, efforts to convince the American Government to give resources have failed), so they had to restrict the number of “hits” from Iranians. However, given the circumstances, they eased up in recent days and, as of a few hours ago, according to one of the terrific guys who runs this thing, “We started to remove the restriction to Iranian traffic on June 13. On June 16 (yesterday), the number of daily hits from Iran has exceeded 200 million, and the number of daily Iranian users is well above 400,000.”

Help those people.

4. Build a strike fund for Iranian workers. And get them food for their kids. Jimmy Hoffa, you listening? Once upon a time there were “free trade unions” in the West who performed miracles for Lech Walesa and “Solidarity.” They seem to have disappeared. I guess they spent all their money on the election.

5. Call, courage and clarity from our leaders. Above all, from Obama and Hillary. Constant denunciation of the oppression and slaughter of innocent people in Iran, constant appeals to the “universal values” for which we all stand.

I would not get involved in the little details of the Iranian revolution. I don’t think it’s a good idea for the president to call up Mousavi, frankly. It’s too elitist, it ignores the nature of the revolutionary moment. Support the people. Get them what they need to win: information, tools, signs of active concern.

It’s not hard. We’ve done it before. It works. Ask Mikhail Gorbachev.