Krauthammer Dreams Of A ‘Moderate’ Iran Dictatorship

In the midst of what is essentially a less skillful/more mendacious rewrite of Robert Kagan’s column from Tuesday, Charles Krauthammer daydreams about the Iranian demonstrations turning into “a true revolution that brings down the Islamic Republic.”

Imagine the repercussions. It would mark a decisive blow to Islamist radicalism, of which Iran today is not just standard-bearer and model, but financier and arms supplier. It would do to Islamism what the collapse of the Soviet Union did to communism — leave it forever spent and discredited. […]

[W]ith Hezbollah having lost elections in Lebanon and with Iraq establishing the institutions of a young democracy, the fall of the Islamist dictatorship in Iran would have an electric and contagious effect. The exception — Iraq and Lebanon — becomes the rule. Democracy becomes the wave. Syria becomes isolated; Hezbollah and Hamas, patronless. The entire trajectory of the region is reversed.

First, a note of caution: I myself am also very interested in what a green victory could portend for political reform in region, but if the last years have taught us anything, it’s that when conservatives — particularly Charles Krauthammer — start to expound theories of Middle East transformation like this, people in the Middle East should start stocking up on water, food, and gasoline for their generators.


It’s clear from Krauthammer’s conflation of the Iranian regime with “Islamism” more broadly that’s he’s ignorant, or at least dismissive, of the diversity of Islamist thought, and of the role that Islamist thinkers and movements have and will continue to play in Middle East politics. It’s also clear from Krauthammer’s hailing of Iraq’s “young democracy” that he’s unaware that the main parties in power in Iraq — both Sunni and Shia — are themselves Islamist parties. (In regard to the lazy Communism=Islamism equation, I dealt with conservative attempts to shoehorn Iran into a tired Cold War narrative in The American Prospect yesterday.)

But here’s where I think Krauthammer really gives away the game:

The only hope for a resolution of the nuclear question is regime change, which (if the successor regime were as moderate as pre-Khomeini Iran) might either stop the program, or make it manageable and nonthreatening.

You’ll have noticed that no one in the street in Iran is calling for a return to the “moderate, pre-Khomeini” regime. That’s because the Shah’s regime in pre-Khomeini Iran was an oppressive, abusive authoritarian one, which regularly imprisoned, tortured, and executed its political opponents. It got so bad that, in 1979, they had this whole revolution over it. The Shah’s regime was “moderate” mainly in the sense that it was more amenable to U.S. hegemony in the region. Which, I guess, as far as Charles Krauthammer is concerned, is the point.

The fact that Krauthammer could claim the Shah’s regime as “moderate” while at the same time affecting solidarity with Iran’s “people in the street yearning to breathe free” bespeaks a real contempt for the principles he claims to espouse. Even as he excoriates the president (who, it bears repeating, continues to be praised by Iranian human rights activists for his prudence) for being “afraid to take sides,” Krauthammer himself has taken a side: The side of pure, naked American interest and power, brutally defined and unapologetically exercised. That’s a fair position to take, I suppose, but I just wish he would be honest about it, and stop disrespecting those risking their lives in Iran’s streets by using them as political props.


On Bloggingheads, David Frum makes the same “Middle East domino theory 2.0” argument as Krauthammer. Flynt Leverett responds with appropriate “there you go again” argument.