WASHINGTON: America’s conservatives have eagerly cheered the wave of anti-regime protests sweeping Iran, seizing on the movement as a stark repudiation of the outreach towards Tehran pursued under Barack Obama’s presidency.
Emboldened by the words of President Donald Trump, who warned Tehran that “the world is watching,” dozens of Republican lawmakers have rushed to praise the protesters flooding Iranian cities in the biggest test in years for the Islamic regime.
“Brave protestors are once again shining a light on Iran’s brutality. Thank you @realDonaldTrump for standing with them in their quest for freedom,” House Republican Marsha Blackburn tweeted.
Most Republicans in Congress opposed the landmark nuclear deal that Obama struck with Iran in 2015—and many have expressed vindication amid the current unrest, which initially focused on economic woes but quickly turned against the regime as a whole.
“The deal with Iran hasn’t worked,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told CBS, saying the convulsion of protests “tells us that the Obama approach of relieving sanctions, hoping the regime would moderate, has failed.”
The money from sanctions relief has not benefited everyday Iranians, but instead “has gone into rebuilding the Iranian military, and they’re destabilizing the Mideast,” Graham added.
On Tuesday Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, broke his silence to accuse Iran’s “enemies” of fomenting the unrest, which has left an estimated 21 people dead and led to hundreds of arrests.
Graham and other US lawmakers accused Khamenei and other Iranian leaders of failing to ease economic hardships despite taking steps toward reform following a previous wave of mass demonstrations, in 2009.
“The Iranian people want freedom and an end to the ayatollahs’ reign of terror,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, who challenged Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
“These protests reveal to the world that the Iranian regime would rather export and finance terror beyond its borders—especially to its terrorist proxies in Syria, Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen—than work to meet the basic needs of its own citizens.”
‘Looking toward America’
Several conservatives depicted the protests as an uprising against “oppression and tyranny,” in the words of Sen. Rob Portman.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich placed them on a par with the movement led by South African liberation icon Nelson Mandela.
“Unprompted by any forces but those at home, they are exercising their God-given right to freedom of speech and assembly,” Kasich said.
Others made the United States squarely part of the equation.
“Iranians are looking toward America to support their struggle,” Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in The Wall Street Journal, urging the White House to continue condemning the regime, and follow up with “sanctions targeting corruption and human-rights abuses.”
Conservatives, including Graham, have stressed that America is not the “enemy” of ordinary Iranians—echoing the stance of the US president who has kept up a steady stream of tweets in support of the protesters.
Yet foreign policy hawks in Congress could seize on the latest events to toughen up a bill in the works aimed at hardening the 2015 nuclear deal.
The legislation, which is being crafted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker and Democrat Ben Cardin, would seek to make permanent restrictions on Iran that the deal gradually lifts beginning in 2025.
It could also reimpose penalties against Iran over its missile development.
Lawmakers had hoped to pass the controversial measure before the next deadline for Trump to certify the nuclear agreement, in mid-January.
US partners, particularly Europeans, have expressed concern that such a bill could blow up the deal.