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If one Iran is bad enough, then two will be double trouble

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted May 5, 2003

For some time, as the policy debate raged about what to do with Iraq, Michael Ledeen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, argued passionately that the United States should tackle Iran first. He asserted that Iran was ready to blow. Young people constitute a majority of the country's population, and they are interested in Western values. They smuggle into Iran every banned movie possible. They actually construct crude devices to attempt to bring in the signals of Western radio and television stations. Although the Internet is forbidden, some manage to get it anyway. The young are chafing under strict Islamic rule, similar to that which dominated Afghanistan until Coalition forces intervened.

We will never know if he was right, but watching the huge anti-American demonstrations in Iraq, one can't help but wonder if perhaps Ledeen was correct. He contended that if Iran became a democratic country, that it would have had a profound impact on Iraq, perhaps encouraging that population to rise up to effect a regime change without outside intervention.

I realize that it is far too soon to make a judgment about what is or isn't going to work in Iraq. While unnamed sources tell the Washington Post that administration officials now believe they may have underestimated the ability of Shiite fundamentalists to organize, P. Mitchell Prothero of UPI reports for the Washington Times about two very prominent and well respected Shiite clerics, both of whom welcome the United States and believe the Coalition should stay as long as necessary to rebuild Iraq. Moreover, they want the USA to provide more "security and support." Sayed Hussein Al-Hayderi, accepted as a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, is grateful that the United States has "given us the security to pursue our religion for the first time in 35 years. We can worship in peace now, when we could not under Saddam's regime," he told UPI.

U.S. troops open fire on demonstrators in Fallujah, Iraq for the second time last week as Iraqis marched on April 30
U.S. troops open fire on demonstrators in Fallujah, Iraq for the second time last week as Iraqis marched on April 30

Still, the image of those huge crowds telling the United States and Great Britain to go home now is a powerful one. Our objective is supposed to bring democracy to Iraq. Right now we have no real idea how many Shiites have the view of Sheik Khalid Al-Kadhimi, the leader of the Al Hamza movement, who wants a parliament which allows the religious and non-religious to compete for votes, respecting the rights of all people, and how many want the fundamentalist-style theocracy which is empowered by one man, one vote, one time.

If we fought a war only to have brought about another Iran, it will not have been worth the lives of the few Americans and Brits who made the ultimate sacrifice. In a real democracy, people are free to vote or not vote. The fundamentalist Muslims are very good at organizing. They know how to turn out their vote. Once they become a majority, they make laws virtually excluding everyone else.

If democracy has any chance to work in Iraq, then not only the different religious and ethnic factions have to participate, but the secular forces as well. All of these groups had better learn how to identify their vote and turn it out. Those who would be inclined not to vote had better understand that the consequence of exercising their right to abstain will most likely result in bringing about a theocracy where they will have no rights. (Where is former Senator Bob Kasten when we need him? The Senator was considered the foremost expert on voter identification and turnout in the Congress.)

The Coalition had better not leave too soon, despite the demands of those holding street demonstrations. If we don't teach all the groups, secular and religious, about the responsibility to vote and the necessity to learn where the candidates stand on issues, we will certainly give the advantage to the fundamentalists. Two Irans, right next to each other, would be a threat to the stability of the region. And while that might be considered the will of the majority, in such countries, the minority has no rights.

That should be an unsettling thought.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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