This is a time when Americans of all political stripes should be pulling together to support the brave democrats of Iran who, like our Founding Fathers, are risking their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to fight against a tyrannical regime. Yet Americans, who are so divided over everything these days, are divided on this issue, too.
President Trump and his followers are the most avid supporters of the Iranian protests. Trump has been tweeting his encouragement in Persian while trying to smear Democrats as supporters of the ayatollahs. He even retweeted a fake image of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Iranian garb. Only Trump can fail to see any contradiction between catering to Islamophobia and supporting Muslim protesters. Trump’s children are bragging that one of his tweets is the “most liked” Farsi tweet in history. But the Internet is heavily censored in Iran and few Iranians have access to Twitter, so it’s doubtful that his propaganda will have much impact. Like everything else that Trump does, this mainly seems to be about his domestic political calculations.
Democrats, for their part, have been cautious about embracing the cause of the protesters. Among the Democratic presidential hopefuls, only former vice president Joe Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar have voiced their support in recent days. Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg lauded the democratic elections in Taiwan — as well he should — but not the Iranian protesters. Since being attacked on the left for (rightly) calling Soleimani a “murderer,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren has largely confined her remarks to criticism of Trump. On Sunday, Pelosi said the Iranian regime “should be held accountable” for shooting down a passenger aircraft but was strangely noncommittal in talking about the protesters. Iranian American journalist Yashar Ali, a former Democratic operative, took to Twitter to criticize liberals for failing to back the protests.
I can understand why Democrats are reticent to speak out — and it has nothing to do with any sympathy for a terrorist regime, as Trump viciously and falsely suggests. In the first place, Democrats don’t trust Trump — and for good reason. The president is a pathological narcissist and liar who misused his foreign policy powers to try to help his own reelection campaign and has just been caught lying about his justification for the strike on Soleimani. If Trump is for something — and he is very much for the Iranian protests — Democrats have an understandable proclivity not to support it.
This is only partly due to knee-jerk partisanship. Trump makes it hard to be on his side because his partisanship and cynicism are so transparent. How can anyone take seriously Trump’s demand to Iran — “let reporters roam free!”—when he has denounced the news media as the “enemy of the people”? How can anyone take seriously Trump’s professed concern about human rights in Iran when he has shown no interest in promoting human rights in places like China and Russia — and when says he is “in love” with Kim Jong Un? And how can anyone take seriously Trump’s positioning as a champion of the downtrodden Iranian people when he bars Iranians from entry to the United States and just threatened to bomb Iranian cultural sites? His hypocrisy is off the charts.
Many progressives understandably suspect that Trump has ulterior motives in backing the protesters and that his confrontational policies could drag us into another Middle Eastern conflict. We’ve seen this movie before — the Clinton and Bush administrations’ policies of supporting Iraqi exiles eventually led the United States into a war in that country. No one wants a repeat of that fiasco, yet Trump is surrounded by aides, such as Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who are unrepentant supporters of the Iraq War.
These are all good reasons to be suspicious of what the Trump administration is doing — but they are not a good reason to be standoffish in our support of the Iraqi dissidents. Big-D Democrats should support Iran’s small-D democrats even while continuing to criticize Trump’s incoherent Iran policy.
We should be vocal not because of who our enemies are (which is all that Trump seems to care about) but because of who we are. We are a nation dedicated to the “self-evident” proposition that all men and women “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” When people in other countries risk their lives to vindicate those rights, we owe them moral support at the very least. If we fail to provide even that, we have lost our way as a country.