Vittert: America needs to support Iran’s democracy protests

On Balance with Leland Vittert

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a press conference in New York on September 22, 2022. (Photo by Ed JONES / AFP) (Photo by ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — If America won’t stand up for those demanding democracy, nobody will.

Over the past week, thousands of Iranians risked life and limb to demand basic freedoms.

They stared down Iran’s secret police. They worked around internet controls so the world could see the regime’s brutality. They demanded an end to religious laws.

The protests started with the killing of Mahsa Amini by the ayatollah’s morality police. She allegedly defied the police by removing her head scarf.

What did America do? Well, not much; effectively nothing. Today the Treasury Department issued sanctions against the Iranian morality police; that was our big move.

Sanctioning the morality police and forbidding the chief of the morality police from visiting the United States is like forbidding residents of Florida from buying snow blowers: sounds interesting, but completely feckless.

What could we do? Well, a lot.

The United Nations General Assembly is meeting this week, which is President Joe Biden’s chance to show the world America will support those demanding democracy.

Here is what he said at the UN: “We stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights.”

The ayatollah and his henchmen probably laughed when they heard that.

Remember, this is the same Iranian regime that kidnapped dozens of Americans and held them for over a year.

Finally, someone stands up to them and what does America do? Nothing.

In 10 seconds of a 29-minute speech from Biden, there is a throw-away line. Not a single promise of help or of support.

Remember, the Iranian regime and the Iran Revolutionary Guard killed hundreds of Americans. Their IEDs planted in Iraq meant thousands of American service members don’t have limbs today. The Iranian regime supports multiple terrorist groups and their attacks on Israel. Iran wants a nuclear bomb and constantly cheated on its deal not to make one.

Now Iranians take to the streets demanding democracy, and we do nothing.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s go back to 2011 and the protests against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He was a strong U.S. ally.

But hundreds of thousands took to the streets and demanded democracy. They demanded freedom. I was there, and it was inspiring.

Here is what Vice President Biden’s boss, President Obama, had to say: “What I indicated tonight to President Mubarak, is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful. It must be peaceful, and it must begin now.”

That was to a U.S. ally. Three decades of friendship with the United States and less than three weeks of protest and boom, transition must begin now.

Mubarak must go. It sent shockwaves through the streets. The U.S. president supported the protesters. Mubarak, a dictator for three decades, a lion in the Middle East, left 10 days later.

The world changed, 10 days after Obama’s speech.

Imagine if President Biden said the ayatollah must go. Imagine if he said we would use our cyber weapons to keep the internet on and thus videos coming out of Iran. Imagine if he said he would hold the ayatollah personally responsible for the safety of protesters.

Instead, on the world stage, he said this: “We stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights.”

You know what? He didn’t say Mahsa Amini’s name. He couldn’t even say her name. Doing so might upset the Iran’s hardline president and the ayatollah, and thus jeopardize the Iran deal.

If America won’t stand up for those demanding democracy, nobody will.

President Biden said he would bring “America back” as the world’s moral compass. I wonder if those in the streets of Iran feel it’s a promised kept.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not of NewsNation.

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