As some Americans protest and British MPs hold banning debates, the rest of the world waits to see what Donald Trump’s presidency really means for foreign policy. Can he forge a new relationship with Putin, one that signals the Middle East breakthrough so many long for or will the turbulence surrounding Trump only make it easier for dark forces now maneuvering for control to seize their chance?
One regime that must be feeling rather pleased, given the current uncertainty, will be that in Tehran. Having secured a major foothold in Syria and Iraq and persuaded the Western powers to lift sanctions, as a result of the ‘nuclear deal’, it is currently strengthening its hand across the entire region while arresting British citizens with impunity. Our rather powerless Foreign Office currently advises that we shouldn’t criticize too strongly lest we further offend the Mullahs and their Revolutionary Guards.
Iran also appears to have escaped any serious censure over its most recent ballistic missile test. Although a clear violation of UN Resolution 2231 which calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons it is not, in the words of a US spokesman, a breach of the “nuclear deal”.
What assessment should we make of current relations with Iran? Both Europe and the US have shown enthusiasm for the smooth tongue of President Rhouhani, a skilled operator but nonetheless a front man with plenty of blood on his own hands. Earlier failures in Iraq and Libya have obviously weakened our resolve and it now appears that western interests are limited to containing, if not defeating, Daesh (Islamic State). This outcome is to be achieved by stretching the meaning of coalition while turning a blind eye to Russian bombing of civilians and every kind of outrage perpetrated by Assad. Iran has of course seized the opportunity to join this coalition as a means of legitimizing its own activities in both Syria and Iraq.
Our problem lies in the fact that this “coalition” is supposed to be about defeating terrorism and religious extremism but now numbers in its ranks an exporter of terrorism, a regime whose constitution explicitly tasks a para military organization, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, with exporting the “Islamic Revolution”. Far from defeating extremism, encouraging Iran is like feeding the wolf.
It might also be argued that we have too readily fallen for the false narrative that the military interventions of the USA, UK and other nations is responsible for the rise of Daesh. Rather it has been our stop/go policies and failure to respond effectively to events and listen to warnings from those who know that has allowed situations to spiral out of control. Had we listened to warnings, we would have recognized that it is Iran, through its constant support for terrorist groups in the region, that has led to so much destabilization and that its attempts to escalate Shia/Sunni differences into a holy war have created the very conditions in which Daesh flourished. The logic of this argument is that far from Iran being part of the solution, it is an aggressive, hostile influence seeking regional domination. If we don’t act soon we will have been complicit in helping Iran achieve its goal.
Since the Iranian theocracy hijacked Iran’s popular revolution back in 1979, its leaders have misused Islam to wage an almost constant war against its own citizens, resulting in public hangings, torture and mass killings. Perhaps no surprise that Amnesty International have uncovered evidence of torture, starvation and mass hangings of at least 13,000 people at Saydnaya prison north of Damascus. The accounts of survivors will be familiar to those who know the work of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards at Evin Prison. In just two months, in 1988, Iran with the involvement of many of its present leadership executed over 30,000 people, some of them children as young as 13, in a purge ordered by the then Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. This is the action of a bloodthirsty theocracy for which repression and barbarism is a way of life and that’s what it intends to export to its neighbors.
Whatever some peoples’ misgivings about Trump, we should recognize that he is the product of an open and transparent democratic structure. Far from dismissing his doubts about the ‘nuclear deal’ and urging him to pursue the failed policies of Obama, particularly the appeasement of Iran, we should be encouraging an immediate review of current strategies. For those who want to see genuine progress in the region, that would involve urging him to embrace the democratic possibilities offered by Iran’s resistance and its female leader Maryam Rajavi.
These people don’t want arms or military intervention, they want a hearing for their democratic arguments and an opportunity to expose the reality of life under the Mullahs.
In the UK, a country which values freedom of speech, why do we not support the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people and their right to resist against the religious dictatorship? The route to protecting our citizens and expunging religious extremism will not be found in cosying up the Revolutionary Guards. Trump affords us all an opportunity to review our approach before it’s too late.
Steve McCabe is Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak in the UK House of Commons and is a leading member of the British Committee for Iran Freedom (BCFIF).