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[Editor's note: Below is the transcript of a distinguished panel discussing the prospects for liberty in Iran at David Horowitz's Restoration Weekend in Palm Beach, Nov. 18-21.]
Moderator: Well, thank you for coming, everyone, today to the Iran panel. Is revolution still possible in Iran today, now that we’ve seen the rise of the Green Revolution? It’s been quiet, so it seems, in the last several years.
However, today we have a distinguished panel. My name’s Craig Snider. I’m the Director of the Philadelphia Freedom Center for David Horowitz in Philadelphia. And I also work with the Snider Family Foundation.
We have today Richard Perle, who’s the former Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration. And he also has been on the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee for the United States since 1987 until recently, in 2004. Richard is really a specialist in understanding and analyzing revolution and conflict abroad as it affects the interests of the United States. He’s got a broad range of experience that is applicable to Iran.
To his left — Amir Abbas Fakhravar is an Iranian dissident. He is a leader of the student movement inside Iran. He helped to start that many years ago. He was imprisoned for his criticism of the Iranian Islamic Republic. He was in prison for five years, and other times before that, and suffered at the hands of the regime, as so many others have, inside the Evin Prison in Tehran.
It was through Richard Perle’s encouragement and help that Amir was able to transition here to the United States. And in fact, when I first heard Amir speak, he mentioned Richard’s name.
I’m from the private sector, have been working in the private sector all my life, with the exception of joining forces with David a couple years ago. Richard obviously, on the federal and the international level, a man who makes public policy and has been really a witness to history in many of the conflicts around the world that have been in his prevue in his various capacities; and Amir, a dissident and an Iranian national, who is currently in the throes of helping to organize disparate elements of the dissident community.
So I have a few questions I’m going to ask to get things started.
One of the things that I wanted to ask both Richard and Amir is — what stage of the Iranian Revolution, if we can call it that, do you think we’re at right now? And what is the biggest obstacle for preventing the success of this revolution, if in fact it’s underway?
Richard, maybe — Richard, you can start.
Richard Perle: I think if you had asked that question in the immediate aftermath of the Iranian elections, many people would’ve been inclined to say that we are in a late stage with respect to another Iranian Revolution. We’re suffering from the last Iranian Revolution, although not nearly as much as the people of Iran are suffering from it. But in the short term, the Green Revolution seems to have lost momentum.
That should not discourage anyone from the view that in the absence of a regime change in Iran, we have nothing to look forward to but an Iran armed with nuclear weapons and even more aggressive in its destabilizing support for terrorism and disruption in the entire Middle East region. There is no conflict in the region — and they’re all dangerous — that is not fueled by Iran under its present leadership.
Having said all of that, Iran seems to me a place that is really ripe for revolution. And it’s ripe for revolution because it is an unusually young, oppressed population that is not keen on having every aspect of their lives dictated to, which is the current situation. It is a regime that rules by force and intimidation. And if anyone saw the response by the police, the Revolutionary Guards and the Basiji to the demonstrations in which millions of people turned out against the administration, that was a pretty compelling view of how the administration remains in power.
And when you have to turn out hundreds of thousands of armed, paid supporters of the regime in order to disrupt millions protesting the existence of the regime, you’re in trouble. And it’s only, in my view, a question of time.
Last point — I think we are long past a stage in the Iranian Revolution, long past the point at which we should have figured out that we can hasten it. And we can hasten it in a variety of ways, and I expect we’ll get into that in the course of this discussion.
But I want to leave you with the point that if you think a revolution in Iran is possible — if you believe that a regime change could occur — then it seems to me irresponsible, at least, to not anticipate the aftermath of such an event and to begin now to organize, so that in the aftermath of the chaos that would undoubtedly ensue, we will see the rise to power and authority in Iran of people who do not mean us ill, who do not — are not obsessively attached to nuclear weapons, and who are not eager to disrupt the entire region of the Middle East.
So whether it’s tomorrow or three years from now, or five years from now, we should be doing what we can to assure that out of the vacuum that will follow the collapse of this regime, we do not see the emergence of another god-awful regime.
Moderator: Thank you, Richard. I would like to ask Amir to comment on that and to hitchhike on Richard’s last comment that there are things that we could do to hasten the downfall of the regime. You have inside knowledge of and contact with people on the inside of Iran. Is the pronouncement of the death of the Green Movement premature? What’s happening there? And what do you need to succeed?
Amir Fakhravar: Okay. First of all, thank you, David, and all of my friends, and thank you, Richard and Craig.
Three years ago, when David Horowitz gave me the Annie Taylor Award, exactly this time, that was really hard for me to speak English. And that was impossible to understand what the other people are talking about without using the translator. And right now, I’m glad I can understand. I hope you can understand my English. Thank you, David, again.
And about the Revolution — let’s talk first — when the Green Movement happened one and a half years ago, a lot of Islamic Republic’s lobbyists — they are calling themselves scholars in Washington, D.C., Iran scholar. They said this is not a revolution; this is a civil right movement. And they tried hard to push it to the other part — this is the civil right movement. And when we ask them, Why you are saying that, they said, Because revolution is hard. And it’s not going to be like this.
I want to maybe remind them — our people, they are not unfamiliar with the Revolution. We had several revolutions or events the same as Revolution. One hundred four years ago, we had the — we were the first nation in the East to establish a parliamentary system during the Constitutional Revolution.
And just think about it — 104 years ago we started. And then we had nationalizing oil in 1951, and that was [a type of] revolution. And then, we had really — I don’t know what can I name this revolution — the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the bloody revolution. And then we had reform movement. And when Khatami came to power for eight years — and that was type of revolution in Iran. And also the student uprising 9 of July, 1999. I was one of the leaders of that movement. That event was the same as revolution [to and] the Green Movement.
During the Green Movement, we had four million people in street, and they chanted, “Death to Khomeini, death to dictator.” It’s not easy in Iran to say these type of things. Okay, that means it’s possible to have the revolution. And we have, right now, all the facts together to think about another revolution. And the Green Movement is still alive. Maybe you can’t see it in the street. But two months ago, three of Islamic Republic’s diplomats in Europe — they resigned. And they sent a statement and said, “We want to join the Green Movement.” It’s two months ago. Think about it.
When the official people of Islamic Republic — and the people should pass lot of step to sit in these type of position. And when they are saying the Green Movement will be successful — and they started the campaign of Green Embassy. And they ask all of their colleagues to resign and join the people for the Green Revolution. That means the movement is still alive. And you can see everywhere in Iran all — on the wall the people — they are just writing the green V. V is the logo of a revolution.
And in all of the Iranians’ houses right now, you can see the picture of Neda, the lady that was killed one and a half years ago during the protest, the Green protest. That means we have the symbol, the national symbol. We have several national days for the Green Movement right now. And we have everything to create another revolution.
And what we need are two things. And want to continue it in other question. It’s oil sanction, and clean up the Voice of America.
Moderator: You touched on two things, and we will come back to that. This is a related question — what, Richard, an we learn from the Iraq experience, number one? And then, number two — and this is more directed at Amir for afterwards — does Iran have the equivalent of an insurgency movement that could erupt? If a revolution were to happen, would we be faced with an intransigent kind of enemy in the long-term insurgency war?
Richard Perle: One of the important but seldom-discussed lessons from Iraq, in my view, is that if you fail to design a political strategy, if you’re dealing with a problem like Iraq — and Saddam Hussein was certainly a problem — in the end, you may have only a military strategy to fall back on.
And because we passed up one opportunity after another to develop and implement a political strategy in Iraq, when 9/11 came, and the administration became justifiably concerned that a nation with a history of ties to terrorism and a history of weapons of mass destruction was loose and might continue in the vein of 9/11, we had no nonmilitary strategy available to us.
It’s not because we didn’t try. It’s not because the Congress didn’t try. Congress had passed something called the Iraq Liberation Act, which called for regime change in Iraq and actually allocated funds to support regime change in Iraq. And it did that five years earlier. But the Clinton Administration chose not to spend the money that had been allocated for that purpose.
Now, among other results of that is that we had no opportunity to try to change Iraq from within. But even if you think that would not have succeeded, when in the end we went into Iraq militarily, we had no infrastructure in Iraq to organize the post-Saddam era.
And we’ve all seen that while the initial invasion went extremely well, and Saddam fled Baghdad in 20 days, the aftermath proved to be far more difficult than many had anticipated and far more difficult than it needed to be. Because we did not have in place, as we should have had in place, a cadre of people known to us, known to be capable of forming a government and bringing stability rapidly into what became a chaotic situation. And so we got the insurgency, from which the Iraqis suffered hugely and from which we still suffer today.
So the lesson is, when you are faced with an obvious threat — and what could be a more obvious threat than the ambitions and capabilities of the regime in Iran — when you are faced with an obvious threat, it is ludicrous to have no political strategy to deal with it. And if, in the end, that threat reaches proportions that require the use of force, if you haven’t had a political strategy, the ability to manage that process will be infinitely more hazardous and more difficult.
Moderator: So I’ll restate the second part of the question. You know, typically in a revolution, you’ve got true-believers on both sides of the contest. In Iran, do you see a similar possibility of a core group of dedicated fanatics that will fight to the bitter end? Or do you think it’s different in Iran?
Amir Fakhravar: And Richard mentioned a great point about it. We didn’t have any type of protest of any type of this in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for years, we can see these type of things in Iran. And they’re established now to fight with the mullahs.
And the other thing is the good point — is in 1979, the Basijis, the Revolutionary Guard at that time — they had something to believe. They believed in Khomeini as a messenger from God from 12 Imam. They believe in 12 Imam, they believe in [Shiaism]. They had something to believe. And during the 30 years corruption, just right now they believe in money, and their salary. Their salary is three times more than the normal salary of employee of government in Islamic Republic. And they don’t believe anymore in 12 Imam. They saw the mullahs in power are just taking advantage of power and money and everything. And that’s the good things. Maybe in 1979 they were ready to be killed for their belief, and right now they are not.
And I’m sure you can see a lot of Basijis with tie, and they will shave, and they will come to say, We are diplomat. And it happened to Islamic Republic’s diplomat. They just resigned. They shaved, and they wear tie, and they are saying, We are diplomats. And just look at their picture last year.
And I don’t think we will have the type of civil war in Iran. Because the people, they don’t have any gun. That was one of Islamic Republic’s huge law, to just remove all the guns from the hand of people. And just the Basiji and Revolutionary Guard — they have the gun.
Richard Perle: It seems to me the situation in Iran is more likely to look like the situation in Romania, where Ceausescu was gone in an instant, despite the vast security apparatus that, up until the moment they decided they were no longer going to support him, were a powerful, intimidating force. I think it can turn on a dime in Iran. And I can’t see where the opposition would come from, although Amir is probably right that people with guns will shoot at one another.
Amir Fakhravar: And I want to add another thing. We are talking about the generation, the new generation. More than 70 percent of Iranian people right now are under the age of 35, and 81 percent under the age of 40. They love United States. They are not like the old generation — brainwashed to just say “death to America, death to Israel.” They’re not like this. They love America, they have respect for Israel.
And I have fact and proof for that. Look what happened two years ago. November 4th, if I’m not mistaken, the anniversary of hostage-taking in Iran — that’s the national — that was the national day to say “death to America.” For 30 years. And the new generation, they came to street, and they chanted, “Obama, Obama, are you with them, or with us?” And they asked directly US government to help.
And I don’t want to go over there to see what happened from this side. Because maybe Obama thought it’s better to just invite the Islamic Republic’s official for negotiation, or exactly after the election to invite them for Fourth of July party. I can’t understand why.
But the new generation in Iran, they are well-educated. They know West. They have access to Internet, even with the dialup. They have access to Internet, and they can understand what’s better for them. And they want to use the United States as a role model to build the new Iran.
Moderator: There’s two themes emerging here. One is, how do you prepare for a leadership vacuum should the Islamic Republic fall? And then, another was, how do we hasten the fall? Is there something we can do as Americans, whether it be in government, in the private sector, or even within, in terms of the revolutionary movement itself?
Somebody just asked — please define the goals of the Green Movement. I will just comment quickly that the Green Movement is really a confederation informally of different groups that oppose the regime. And it’s all under one umbrella.
There’s reformers, who want a kinder, gentler Islamic Republic. There are secular Greens, like Amir, who are working to create a new constitution for Iran that would be modeled after the one in the United States that would not be a religious state. And there are even socialists and monarchists and communists over there that oppose the existing regime. So one of the real challenges is to bring those groups together in some kind of way. Obviously, they have different kinds of goals.
So in terms of the hastening the fall of the Islamic Republic, there are few people that would disagree that Iran’s rise to nuclear ascendency is the number-one threat to the current world order, and it mustn’t happen. And yet we don’t see much happening. The options of bombing Iran or starting a war could create more unforeseen problems.
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