For 16 months, the President’s outstretched hand to Iran’s rulers has been consistently and defiantly met with a clenched fist – a fist that is now more stained than ever with the blood of Iran’s sons and daughters. Yesterday, we finally shifted to sanctions. By itself, the latest Security Council resolution is inadequate. We now need Congress to finish the Iran sanctions bill, so we can pass it without delay. We need the Administration to impose new targeted sanctions against those Iranian officials, businesses, and banks that promote the regime’s most dangerous policies – and we need our partners in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East to do the same.
But what is the goal of all this? Is it to persuade Iran’s rulers to finally sit down and negotiate in good faith – to stop pursuing nuclear weapons, supporting terrorism, and abusing their own people? I truly hope this is possible, but that assumption seems totally at odds with the character of this Iranian regime.
For that reason, I would suggest a different goal: to mobilize our friends and allies in like-minded countries, both in the public sphere and the private sector, to challenge the legitimacy of this Iranian regime, and to support Iran’s people in changing the character of their government – peacefully, politically, on their own terms, and in their own ways. Of course, the United States should never provide its support where it is unrequested and unwanted. But when young Iranian demonstrators write their banners of protest in English – when they chant ‘Obama, Obama, are you with us, or are you with them?’ – that is a pretty good indication that we can do more, and should do more, to support their just cause.
We need to stand up for the Iranian people. We need to make their goals our goals, their interests our interests, their work our work. We need a grand national undertaking to broadcast information freely into Iran, and to help Iranians access the tools to evade their government’s censorship of the Internet. We need to let the political prisoners in Iran’s gruesome prisons know that they are not alone, that their names and their cases are known to us, and that we will hold their torturers and tormentors accountable for their crimes. We need to publicize the names of Iran’s human rights abusers, and we need to make them famous. Then we need to impose crippling sanctions on them for their human rights abuses – to go after their assets, their ability to travel, and their access to the international financial system, which is exactly the goal of legislation that I and others have proposed.
It is one thing for members of Congress to lead this effort; it would be quite another thing to get that leadership unequivocally from the President himself. The United States has never had a President whose personal story resonates as strongly overseas as President Obama’s does – whose ability to inspire, to move people, to mobilize them on behalf of democratic change is one of the greatest untapped sources of strength now available to Iran’s human rights activists. If the President were to unleash America’s full moral power to support the Iranian people – if he were to make their quest for democracy the civil rights struggle of our time – it could bolster their will to endure in their struggle, and the result could be historic.
My friends: If there were ever any doubt, the birth of the Green Movement over the past year should convince us that Iran will have a democratic future. That future may be delayed for awhile, but it will not be denied. And now is the time for the United States to position ourselves squarely on the right side of Iranian history – on the side of courageous Iranian reformers like Shiva Nazar Ahari.