With Poland's Solidarity movement of the 1980s as its model, the
Bush administration wants to boost support for opposition groups
inside Iran as a way to counter the actions of the Tehran
The implicit goal: regime change from within.
An emerging consensus in Washington finds that with diplomacy
having so far failed to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions, and US
military action deemed extremely problematic, the remaining option
is a pro-democracy revolution.
But even as the United States urges other countries in the Middle
East, or those with close ties to Iran, to join in pressuring for
political change there, questions are arising over the effectiveness
of internal-change-from-without programs and the degree of grass-
roots support inside Iran for opposition groups. There's also the
risk of such a plan backfiring.
"There's no doubt Iran has a very vibrant civil society and a
growing and active youth population. But how to translate those
strengths into political change - and whether the US can be the
external driver for that change - are big hurdles to cross," says
Bahman Baktiari, a specialist in Middle East politics at the
University of Maine.
An initial problem, Mr. Baktiari says, is that because of
Iranians' widespread disdain for US policies - including those in
Iraq - "any group identified with the US loses credibility."
Beyond that, he adds, the comparison to Poland is not a good one
because the Iranian regime is not as weak as Poland's dictatorship
was when an externally supported Solidarity challenged it.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress this week that
the administration is seeking $75 million in emergency funding to
immediately begin ratcheting up support for pro-democracy forces
inside Iran. Currently, $10 million was budgeted for such efforts,
and little of that money has been spent.
The view in the administration, according to State Department
officials, is that the time is ripe for such action - and for
getting other countries to go along. Tehran is now widely seen as
having crossed "red lines," as Secretary Rice says, with its return
to nuclear fuel enrichment this week and with repeated provocative
outbursts from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The money will go toward boosting broadcasts in Farsi to Iran,
support for opposition groups, and student exchanges. Rice, on the
road next week, will tout the effort during stops in Egypt, Saudi
Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Other officials will take up
the cause with Western allies - considered ready to challenge Tehran
after it rebuffed diplomatic efforts by Britain, France, and Germany
to negotiate a settlement to Iran's nuclear ambitions. …