Iran: Of Courage and Cowardice

“I am not scared,” said a young woman, her clothes drenched in blood, during last week’s protest in Tehran to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 1999 student uprising against Iran’s brutal regime, “because we are in this together.”

Hundreds of miles away in the Italian town of L’Aguila, leaders of the Group of Eight industrial nations pretended that they, too, are “not scared” of the regime. They again voiced concern about Tehran’s crackdown on protestors, they again pressed Tehran to help defuse the controversy over its nuclear program, and they again threatened tough sanctions if the regime refused to do so.

The blood-soaked woman (whose words appeared in a New York Times article) and the wellcoifed Western leaders share fears of a radical regime that threatens its enemies within and beyond its borders.

But the woman and the leaders are living worlds apart. And unless those worlds come closer together, with the leaders adopting a bit of that woman’s resolve, the world could be headed for a dark future.

President Obama has rightly described a nuclear Iran as a “game changer,” for it will trigger a regional nuclear arms race and threaten the security of Israel, the Arab states, Europe and the United States. It also will force the United States to think twice before trying to constrain Iran’s regional ambitions, confront Iranian-backed terrorist groups and help those Iranians who seek a democratic future.

Thus, a nuclear Iran would leave both the Iranian people and the West more vulnerable to an outlaw regime. But consider what average Iranians are doing and what Western leaders are doing to address the problem.

Average Iranians display a breathtaking courage. After all, the regime has long suppressed domestic dissent in the most brutal fashion, arresting, torturing and not infrequently killing labor, women’s, student, democratic and religious leaders.

To the protests that have swept Iran since last month’s disputed election, the regime has responded accordingly. Its crackdown has left scores (if not hundreds) dead and many more in prison.

Seeking to end the protests, the regime warned Iranians that it would deal harshly with future expressions of dissent. But thousands will not relent and, in fact, are making plans for even more protests.

By contrast, Western leaders mock the very notion of courage, avoiding conflict with the regime while congratulating one another on their “unity” in expressing ”concern” about Iranian activities and warning of tough sanctions sometime down the road.

After the Group of Eight leaders announced last week that they will consider sanctions against Tehran in late September, when they will meet again in Pittsburgh as part of the G-20 meeting, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said their statement “shows the unity of the G-8 against the situation in Iran.”

William Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state, joined in the self-congratulation, calling the statement “significant in that you have all eight members of the group indicating they have serious concerns.”

“Serious concerns” may sound, well, serious – a prelude to serious action. But we’ve seen this movie before. The West criticizes and complains, issues statements and warnings, and imposes sanctions that fall far short of what’s needed to squeeze Iran’s economy, fuel greater domestic dissent, threaten the regime’s grip on power and, in this way, convince the mullahs that they must shift course.

What Western leaders really want is what they’ve always wanted – to negotiate a way out of the controversy. What they can’t seem to accept, or even comprehend, is that Iran doesn’t want the same thing.

“For the past six years we have extended our hand saying stop your nuclear armament program,” Sarkozy said. “Do they want discussions or don’t they want them? If they don’t, there will be sanctions.”

No, Mr. Sarkozy, Iran’s leaders don’t want “discussions.”

Nor do they believe the West will ever impose the kind of sanctions that would really hurt. Based on the history of recent years, who can blame them?

What the regime wants is a nuclear program, which it pretends is for civilian energy but which everyone knows is for weaponry.

“[T]he Islamic Republic of Iran will . . . not retreat even one step from its peaceful nuclear activity,” Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared as Sarkozy and his colleagues were issuing their latest threats.

Will Western leaders show some real backbone before it’s too late?

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