Bret Stephens, the neoconservative foreign policy editor for the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, proclaims in his column today that “the Iranian Green Movement is dead”. The column is a revealing one, although not for the actual argument, which is shoddy even by Stephens’s standards. (He predictably places all blame on Obama for the Green Movement’s failure to topple the Iranian regime last June, but rather incredibly goes on to suggest that what the protesters really needed was for Obama to publicly declare U.S. support for an Israeli attack on Iran. Surely not even Stephens — for whom the answer to any foreign policy question is “increase support for Israel” — can actually believe this.)
No, what is revealing about the column is what it tells us about the intentions of Stephens and the rest of the neoconservative Bomb Iran crowd. In the year since the 2009 election crisis, these hawks have constantly (and rather smugly) proclaimed their undying support for the Green Movement, and sought to wrap their own hawkish stance — which originates primarily in a concern for Israeli interests — in the moral authority of the protesters. Of course, the notion that the protesters were fighting to have Israel bomb their country, or the U.S. “cripple” it with sanctions, was absurd on its face, but then the neocons have never been shy about claiming to speak on behalf of others. Thus the reverent mention of Neda Agha-Soltan became a staple of every warmongering op-ed, as if Neda died in order to maintain Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Middle East.
The only problem for the hawks was that the Iranian opposition began increasingly to speak for itself in the Western media, and rather unfortunately failed to stay on message. We saw this, for instance, in Akbar Ganji’s comments of last month, in which he warned that military strikes or economic sanctions would “destroy” the Green Movement, and stated that “any foreign intervention is bound to hurt us”. Similarly, opposition leaders have been outspoken in defending Iran’s right to enrich uranium, leading Stephens’s Washington Post counterpart Jackson Diehl to lash out at the Green Movement for failing to hew closely enough to the preferences of Washington neoconservatives.
It is in this context that we need to read Stephens’s obituary for the Green Movement; his column may be indicative of the tack that those pushing war against Iran will increasingly take in the future. If the opposition refuses to stay on message, in other words, the only way forward is to proclaim its irrelevance, and if opposition leaders warn that a military attack will destroy their movement, the only way forward is to declare it dead already. If nothing else, this trend may bring a little more honesty into the Iran debate, as the neocons stop pretending to speak on behalf of the Green Movement and admit that they couldn’t care less what it wants.