What's going on in Iran? CNN is painting it as harmless celebrating under the indulgent eye of the authorities, but CNN is not above whitewashing their accounts (free registration required) when they might otherwise lose access. Meanwhile, Project: FREE IRAN! claims it's a full-scale revolution. I hope it is, although others might not. A friend of mine, who is German, asked whether a revolution in Iran would be a good thing. In response to my "Of course!", he took the counter-argument. That, first, a revolution may cause the mullahs to try to find an enemy outside of Iran, and try to focus the people's anger against us. Second, we wouldn't want Iran's WMD projects to fall into the hands of non-government forces. Third, revolutions are sources of chaos, more likely to give power to demagogues than democrats.
I'd like to run through the optimistic view of a revolution's consequences first, then answer each of these protestations in turn.
A revolution in which the pro-democracy, pro-American movement in Iran came to power would have numerous beneficial results:
1. It's always a good thing when oppressed people become free.
2. A new democracy in the Middle East is also a good thing, as it can help to serve as an example to other Middle Eastern countries.
3. A Middle Eastern country becoming a democracy on its own is even better, as we want to encourage a new order which comes from within, not from without. The country is stronger and more confident for achieving freedom on its own. We want the people of the Middle East to reform on their own, through peaceful reform if possible, through revolution if necessary.
4. The pro-American strain in this movement makes it perticularly promising, as it would give us another ally in the Middle East.
5. It would stop Iran's nuclear program in its tracks.
6. It would eliminate a major base of operations and a major source of support for terrorists. Hezbollah is supported by Iran, and there're indications that al Qaeda is receiving significant aid from them.
7. Iran is providing support for the terrorists trying to destabilize Iraq, and removing that support would help to settle the situation there.
So, what of the protestations?
1. A revolution may cause the mullahs to try to find an enemy outside of Iran, and try to focus the people's anger against us.
I think this is unlikely to work, as the revolutionary movement is strongly anti-mullah and strongly pro-American. The two seem to go hand-in-hand, and I don't think the mullahs can divert the sentiment with an external threat. Second, the basic assumption here is that the revolution fails. I think it has a good chance to succeed.
2.We wouldn't want Iran's WMD projects to fall into the hands of non-government forces.
The assumption here is that it's safer to leave it in the hands of the government. Considering that one of the more powerful members of Iran's ruling council has called for Iran to use nuclear weapons against Israel, I'm not sure that's true. Iran's connections with terrorism make the simple handing over of WMDs to terrorists a possibility. While there is a risk that WMDs could end up in terrorist hands if Iran's government collaped, I'm not sure the risk would be any higher than it is now.
3. Revolutions are sources of chaos, more likely to give power to demagogues than democrats.
This is true, but it doesn't have to happen that way. For example, the fall of the Communist governments in Eastern Europe involved remarkably little bloodshed and chaos, and stable democracies arose very quickly.
There are risks in revolutions, of course. In some situations, however, I think the reward is worth the risk.