by Amir Basiri
President Trump’s administration has correctly squared off with Iran, Syria and North Korea, indicating to all parties involved the years of appeasement with dictators has come to an end. As Tehran is coming to understand such policy overhauls from the United States, Trump should also place his crosshairs on Iran’s notorious human rights violations.
While Iran does pose a major military threat, through supporting what has been described by Trump as “radical Islamist terrorism,” Tehran’s ongoing human rights abuses should finally receive the long overdue attention they deserve. In fact, U.S. interests can be advanced through a robust challenging of Iran’s domestic dissent crackdown. U.S. strategy seeking to confront Iran would receive a correct boost through combating Tehran’s authoritarian dogma.
What needs comprehension in the West is that the mullahs fear U.S. military power far less than its ability to launch a “cultural war.” While Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has mistakenly invested on a theory of military threats rallying the Iranian population around the flag, a cultural onslaught, however, would weaken the willpower of his already dwindling base.
To this end, at a time when Iran’s human rights abuses have intensified enormously from the early days of the 1979 revolution, the regime has pressed the gas pedal on such measures when deemed necessary, when the very doctrine of its Islamist rule faces an escalating threat.
For example, through the past four years, while President Hassan RouhaniHassan RouhaniHassan Rouhani claimed to lead a so-called “reformist” or “moderate” approach, he has simultaneously sent more than 3,000 people to the gallows.
Following the signing of the Iran nuclear deal, Tehran launched a major crackdown campaign resulting in waves of arrests, reminding many of the days following the 2009 uprising. The regime was quite aware to make it crystal clear for all parties that the nuclear pact would not render any widespread engagement between Iran and the West, most specifically Washington.
This year has also witnessed a very similar surge in human rights violations, reflecting a disturbing trend. Some 200 people have already been executed. Tehran has also escalated the apprehension of civil rights activists, ethnic and religious minorities, journalists and social media users. With the May 19 presidential election just around the corner, and memories of the 2009 uprising very clear in the mullahs’ minds, the regime seeks to prevent any mentality of these so-called polls resulting in anything even remotely resembling fundamental change in the regime’s character.
The Trump administration can utilize the opportunity of Tehran’s utter fear of cultural infiltration, being the force behind its domestic repression. Iran must understand Trump’s overall strategy of confronting its Middle East belligerence, including its involvement in Syria, and nuclear/ballistic missile ambitions also increase the cost of human rights violations. Through such an approach, Washington can weaken Tehran’s thirst to challenge U.S. interests across the board.
Parallel to such policy overhauls, the U.S. should stand alongside the Iranian people and their organized resistance, represented for decades by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the umbrella group of different organizations and individuals led by Maryam Rajavi, advocating regime change and peaceful transition to democracy.
Increasing sanctions on Iranian regime elements involved in human rights violations is another aspect that would complete the canvas of Trump’s policy vis a vis Iran. Such measures would also send messages to the international community regarding the dangers in seeking short-term economic interests at the cost of the Iranian people’s long and ongoing misery.
The Trump administration should take the adequate steps forward to fulfill U.S. interests in Iran and the world over.
Amir Basiri (@amir_bas) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is an Iranian human rights activist.