It’s good to talk (or how to help the Iranians)

It’s good to talk, although maybe not so much to the regime in Tehran. Diplomacy may still have a part to play in relations between Iran and the international community, but events are squeezing the space within which diplomacy can be conducted. I’m referring instead to the call from Iran’s pro-democracy movement for practical support.

In yesterday’s New York Times former CIA Middle East analyst and covert operations specialist Reuel Marc Gerecht starts off by looking at Iranian democrats’ fascination with the open society philosopher Karl Popper, and goes on to discuss what can be done in practical rather than intellectual terms to support the Iranian green movement.

After all the tedious blether about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, geopolitical manoeuvrings and sanctions, Gerecht’s article is a welcome and for him partially redemptive change, focusing as it does on the instability of the regime, the failures of previous attempts at internal liberalisation within the Islamic Republic, and what is needed most by Iranian democrats. By now it should be clear that regime change in Iran will begin and end with the Iranian people, not outside military intervention or a bunch of suits sitting around the UN Security Council table in New York.

And what do Iranian democrats urgently need? Satellite-fed Internet connections, and pay-as-you-go video broadcasting cards in abundance. This is so Iranians can communicate more effectively with each other, not just provide live commentary of riots and images of bloodied protesters for the benefit of American and European media consumers. Fifty million dollars a year should do it, says Gerecht. That seems like a bargain at the price, so what are we waiting for?

Gerecht has been proved wrong when it comes to his infamously neoconservative views on big-picture stuff, including the liberation of Iraq from Ba’athist control, and the facilitation of democratic revolutions in the wider Islamic world. Added to which is a morally confused defence of “physically coercive techniques” when interrogating captured al-Qaeda operatives. But Gerecht clearly knows a thing or two about Iran, and when we are talking about an investment on the level of governmental petty cash, surely we can afford to take the risk.