The Bush administration has been right in recent weeks to focus attention on Iran--but not because of the threat that Iran might build nuclear weapons. Iran is the source of a much more powerful weapon of mass destruction that has already been unleashed against the West: the ideology of Islamic theocracy, with its tactic of state-sponsored terrorism.
And we must confront this threat now because we have an opportunity to strike at the very heart of Iran's regime by supporting its repudiation by its own citizens.
Iran has long been the leading ideological and material source of terrorism. The Ayatollah Khomeini was the first to develop a systematic theory of modern Islamic theocracy--a totalitarian fusion of mosque and state that is nearly identical to the philosophy later espoused by Osama bin Laden. Under the theocracy founded by Khomeini, Iran has been a systematic exporter of the ideas and methods of terrorism, backing international terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
Most important, Iran was the first Islamic regime to strike systematically at the United States, from the seizing of our embassy in Tehran in 1979--to the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983--to the kidnapping of Americans in Lebanon through the 1980s--to Iran's probable involvement in the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996--to its sheltering of al-Qaeda leaders responsible for the latest anti-American bombing in Saudi Arabia. For almost a quarter of a century, Iran has been at war against the United States of America.
The most dangerous precedent set by this not-so-secret war is the fact that America has refused to fight back. Every administration since 1979 has followed a policy of appeasement, from trading arms for hostages to the State Department's recent "secret" negotiations with the mullahs.
Iran's rulers use terrorism as a tactic because it allows them to wage war against America without suffering the consequences of a real confrontation with a powerful foe. But this only works because we have chosen not to respond.
Now, however, we have been given an unprecedented opportunity to strike at the heart of the mullah's power. When the Soviet Union fell, the world discovered that no one hated Communism more than those forced to live under it. Similarly, no one in the Middle East hates Islamic theocracy more than the young people of Iran. For four years, Iranian students have held mass protests in the streets. These protesters are openly fighting for the right principles: the idea of a secular government with freedom of speech and separation of mosque and state.
Despite arrests of opposition leaders, the rebellion is growing--and it has been emboldened by America's invasion of Iraq. A reporter with McLean's, a Canadian newsmagazine, recently traveled across Iran and heard one message: "they would welcome American troops if they were sent to remove the leadership." A young female student told him: "We want more freedom. We want the freedom to speak our minds, and we think America can bring this to us."
These demands for freedom are more than loose talk. The Iranian dissidents have set July 9 as the date for a massive general strike to protest against theocracy--an event that could initiate a showdown with the regime. This opportunity is too important, and the threat from Iran is too urgent, to allow for a moment's delay. It is crucial for Congress and the administration to provide immediate material, diplomatic, and moral support for the Iranian rebels.
But we dare not depend on these unarmed dissidents to overthrow the mullahs on their own. We cannot abandon them to an Iranian equivalent of the Tiananmen Square massacre. We must be prepared to use our overwhelming military might to destroy Iran's theocracy.
The reasons for toppling Iran's theocracy are far stronger--and more certain--than the reasons for invading Iraq. President Bush has described America's military victory in Iraq as the "turning of the tide" in the War on Terrorism. But supporting the rebellion against the mullahs would be more than a military victory. It could decisively turn the ideological tide in the Middle East. Helping to establish a secular government on the ruins of a theocracy would provide a vivid demonstration of the failure of Islamic fanaticism--and a model of a free, prosperous, secular society.
This is the main battle in the War on Terrorism, and it is about to commence. America only needs to decide whether we will choose to fight it.