Iran held its latest national elections in May 2017, resulting in a second term for President Hassan Rouhani. But the country’s banned democratic opposition groups, mainly the National Council for Resistance of Iran (NCRI), universally dismissed the elections as a mere parody of democracy. The People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, (PMOI) aka the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq or MEK, is the largest unit within the NCRI. Such dissenting voices are always barred by clerical authorities who select candidates who can run.
About a week after the elections, President Trump delivered a major speech to leaders of 55 Muslim-majority countries; it marked his first effort to reach out to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. In his address, Trump made a gesture to the Iranian people but did not provide a mechanism for doing so. Here is where Tehran’s organized opposition could play a role by giving a voice to the Iranian people.
Despite continuing efforts to destroy its main opposition, the NCRI, this organization not only survives but thrives. One of the reasons the resistance prospers is because it maintains principles like refusing to kowtow to Tehran despite sexual torture against women, public hangings, as well as outdoor executions to intimidate. Tehran destroyed other organizations that compromised.
Search for a Moderate President of Iran
American presidents from both parties have repeatedly insisted on a strategy of encouraging moderation within the regime as opposed to exploiting its instability and unpopularity. This approach has been badly misguided and has resulted in a series of disappointments, following upon promises of reform from Mohammad Khatami, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and now Rouhani. His first four years saw over 3,000 executions and an intense crackdown, rampaging poverty and injustice on the domestic scene; and intensifying foreign interventions and skyrocketing military/security budgets alongside efforts to advance the regime’s ballistic missile drive via testing.
With an electoral “mandate” in his pocket, Rouhani can double down on persecution of dissidents. A second term for Rouhani is unlikely to bring about any significant policy changes. The regime is more divided and thus weaker and more vulnerable; in addition, the NCRI has gained much more public standing.
Iran Freedom rally
If Trump will pay close attention to the Iran Freedom rally on July 1, he will see that the policies espoused there don’t require compromising on Trump’s policy of putting “America first.” Iranians, both inside the country and within the Diaspora, are fully prepared to take their country into their own hands in a coalition of groups that reject clerical rule in Iran. One candidate to lead this coalition is the NCRI, which has adopted the democratic, secular, and non-nuclear 10-point plan of its president-elect, Maryam Rajavi. All the coalition needs is international political support, particularly from Washington.
The Way Forward
First, the Trump address in Saudi Arabia lacks a way to weaken Iran; this deficit opens the door for the organized Iranian opposition to accelerate the regime’s disintegration. Indeed, the tide is turning away from Tehran in favor of its main opposition.
Second, prospects for Trump to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization are growing; hence, there is a window of opportunity to designate the IRGC.
Third, consider a letter of Apr. 20, 2017, notifying Congress of a 90-day interagency Iran policy review. Secretary Tillerson said the White House was looking into whether Trump should break with the nuclear deal with Iran due to its continued support of terrorism. As Trump conducts his policy review, the will of the Iranian people, voiced by NCRI, should be taken into account as a core part of the new policy. There may not be a need to break completely with the nuclear deal, by incorporating the oppositionists into a coherent strategy that includes Riyadh’s Islamic military alliance and Washington’s global alignment against terrorism.
Prof. Raymond Tanter (@AmericanCHR) served as a senior member on the Middle East Desk of the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration, Personal Representative of the Secretary of Defense to international security and arms control talks in Europe, and is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan. Tanter is on the comprehensive list of conservative writers and columnists who appear in The Wall Street Journal, Townhall.com, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Human Events, The American Spectator, and now in Newsmax. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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