Will former Senator Rick Santorum step in to fill the sensible foreign policy vacuum left by Tim Pawlenty's early departure from the GOP presidential race? One lively exchange in a debate before the Ames Straw Poll should give believers in advancing freedom and democracy some measure of hope.
It came when FOX News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked Congressman Ron Paul why he supports repealing sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran and if he supported its quest for nuclear weapons. Paul began his response by recalling the Cold War and insisted that the Soviets were a "much greater danger" because they possessed more ballistic missiles. "Why should we write people off?" Paul asked, referring to the notorious regime.
Santorum seemed baffled at Paul's response. He touted his own authorship of the Iran Freedom Support Act. Paul could be seen in the corner of the screen scoffing before he suggested that the United States "mind its own business." Santorum countered that Paul was "obviously not seeing the world very clearly." Indeed, this retort from "Dr. No," as Paul's colleagues in Congress know him, suggests he sees the world as it was on September 10, 2001. Santorum was also right to play up his authorship of the act. It sets him apart from Congressman Paul, as well as the Bishops of his own Church.
The moment American Airlines flight 11 plunged into the North Tower, Ron Paul's understanding of warfare became just as outdated as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops'. Despite the attacks on September 11, not much has changed since their 1983 Challenge of Peace letter which held that nuclear weapons were the greatest threat to mankind -- not addressing the ideas of those who posses the weapons. A cursory review of recent statements from the USCCB on war and peace would indicate the Bishops' central concern is still nuclear disarmament.
Yet, as with the Bishops, Congressman Paul's mentioning at Ames that the Islamic Republic of Iran "doesn't even have an Air Force" crystalizes this misunderstanding of modern warfare. As the non-state actors of September 11 showed, the Islamic Republic need not have an air force when we have commercial jetliners at their disposal, which makes Santorum's Iran Freedom Support Act all the more important.
The act appropriated up to $10 million for the State Department to help finance democratic organizations in the Islamic Republic. The Confederation of Iranian Students is one such organization deserving of United States support. This year, in cooperation with the Institute of World Politics, the students held a three-day Iran Democratic Transition Conference discussing the principles of the American form of government as "preparation" for the fall of the Islamic Republic regime. The conference was especially aimed at laying the groundwork for democracy in Iran.
The students' leader, Amir Fakhravar, was imprisoned and tortured for five years for his leadership in the July 1999 demonstrations. Fakhravar has shown an increased effort in making the Washington rounds and educating policy makers. Testifying before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee in 2006, Fakhravar encouraged the United States to help the student movement: "We need means of communication within Iran and with the free world. We need cell phones, cameras, printers to print our books, fliers, and magazines, we need web pages."
Following the purported elections of 2009, with the help of Facebook and Twitter, Fakhravar's friends outside and inside Iran were able to organize a widespread, sustained demonstration throughout the country. Back in 2006, Fakhravar remembers the subcommittee's skepticism of a revolution armed with "cameras, cell phones, and the Internet," but as the demonstrations showed, it is quite an effective strategy. In June 2009 remarks to the Center for Security Policy, Fakhravar stressed the importance of not losing this moment: "this demonstration is much bigger," than 1999 because, "we couldn't talk to the world...we didn't have any media coverage and we felt alone."
The brutal crackdown on the opposition movement and subsequent international outcry pressured President Barack Obama to emerge from his silence and support Fakhravar and his friends in Tehran. Obama first said he didn't want to be seen as "meddling in Iranian elections." When criticized for the timidity of these remarks, Obama suggested he was protecting the demonstrators from being labeled as tools of the United States, "sometimes the United States can be a handy political football." Fakhravar and the larger opposition movement "felt alone again."
But because of Fakhravar's work in Washington, the Green Movement isn't so alone anymore.
With the help of his friend Richard Perle, who he considers a "father figure," Fakhravar has made friends with some of the most influential policy makers in Washington, D.C. From Pentagon officials like Harold Rhode, former CIA director Jim Woolsey, to legislators like Oklahoma's Tom Coburn, Fakhravar has amassed quite an impressive Rolodex. His story has encouraged these policy makers to act in very public ways.
After learning that the Voice of America was broadcasting anti-American messages and pro-Islamic Republic sentiments to Iranians, Senator Coburn wrote a letter to President Bush, and once Senator Obama became President Obama, another letter was sent, this time signed by over 70 congressmen. What's more, at the conclusion of the first Iran Democratic Transition Conference, it was announced that Congressman Trent Franks and Congressman Ted Deutch would be co-chairing a new Congressional Free Iran Caucus. The Conference also heard from the likes of Senator Jeff Sessions and Senator John Cornyn, the sponsor of the Iran Democratic Transition Act in the Senate.
The conference also commemorated what would have been the 28th birthday of democratic martyr Neda Agha-Soltan. Participants learned that Neda had been apolitical, but that the vote fraud of the 2009 elections troubled her enough to protest on the streets of Tehran. For her effrontery, she was shot in the heart by soldiers trying to break up the crowd. The man who attempted to save her life pleaded with her, "Neda, don't be afraid."
As Pope John Paul II similarly said in his first homily as Pope, likely directed at his fellow Poles, "Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid."
Iran could indeed open herself up to the free exchange of ideas that can bring about a needed, fundamental, and relatively bloodless transformation. Organizations like the confederation will continue to spread the ideas of democracy and liberty to the still unfree people of the Islamic Republic.
Anticipating no real action from the Obama administration on the horizon, it will most likely be up to a Republican administration to renew and amplify Fakhravar's 2006 plea: "Help us to uproot the Iranian regime. Believe in us. Believe that a secular democratic government in Iran will be the United States' best ally and friend." That is the world that Rick Santorum sees very clearly.