Ok, this may be a bit long, but it is a difficult subject to approach in just a few lines. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just made a request from the Senate for $85 million to support dissident groups, unions, student fellowships and television and radio broadcasts in Iran. There is an article on this posted in the New York Times.
Although I do not agree with the way Iran is governed currently, there may be serious repercussions to openly advocating and providing this type of aid of which Sec. Rice talks about. In the following I’m going to try and address some of the problems that the US might run into (even though I realize that books would need to be written in order to thoroughly analyze the subject).
Proponents of this aid proposal cite examples of countries where the US took similar actions and was successful. One major problem with using Poland, Ukraine, or Georgia as examples of success stories is that Christianity is the predominant religion in these countries. In the case of Kyrgyzstan, which is 75 percent Muslim, it is a country which is hardly a strong enforcer and promoter of religious rule as is the case with Iran. Also, none of these countries posed any kind of serious threat to the stability of their respective regions, nor were they in any way a threat to the United States. Iran on the other hand, is a fairly homogeneous Islamic country (90% Shi’a, 9% Sunni) so that in itself could be a stumbling bloc in reception of the US aid as afore mentioned. It might be harder to get on the same page with someone who doesn’t share some of the same moral, ethical, and religious values as yourself…someone who may not particularly like the way their country is run now, but who does not necessarily see the western model as a way to go either. This is all speculation on something that may happen down the road, but would we still support a regime change even if the new one might not necessarily be a democratic one?
Even though the support for the US among young people is high, Iranians are also wary of any US meddling in their country because of the past experiences with the US. This proposed aid could be seen as a way of the US attempting to impose its will and way of life onto the Iranians.
Another problem with providing money to the political dissidents is that it might get into wrong hands, to support groups which may be against the current regime, but are not favored as alternatives by the Iranian people either (such as the supporters of the monarchy). The last thing that the US needs is to lose the support that it has in Iran because it backed a wrong group.
The radical Iranian government does not want even minimal relations with the US. How is this aid going to affect the recipients of it once the Iranian government knows who they are? We cannot seriously believe that these groups are not going to be heavily oppressed and persecuted by their government. So how effective will the aid be then? Perhaps it will be effective in the sense that it will cause a certain degree of tension and unrest in the country. But then again, in providing such aid, a question begs to be asked, is it really in our interest to cause unrest in Iran? This becomes especially relevant when talking about the current situation in Iraq. Thus far – especially in the beginning stages of the invasion of Iraq – Iran has been fairly cooperative as it is in its interest to keep stability in their neighboring country. How is Iran going to react to such open promotion of aid to the opposition of the current regime? Certainly it will try to “retaliate” in number of ways and one of the easiest and most cost efficient ones could be to cause/support as much chaos as possible for our troops in Iraq (covertly I would imagine).
These are just some of the downsides to openly/publicly supporting the Iranian government’s opposition.
In my opinion, whatever that is worth, we should try and avoid this type of open support for the opposition as it may cause more damage than good. In the case of Iran we should stick to the back channels and under-the-table types of deals because that way we risk less, as well as we do not openly expose the opposition. Nontheless, I am posting this in order to hopefully generate some discussion on the matter and how it relates to what's in our best national interest.