Iran, we are told, is on the edge of, if not sliding immediately into, chaos. Both sides of the presidential election have claimed not only victory but landslide victory, and as happens in such cases in states that are not genuine democracies, the candidate who is out of power has apparently found himself under arrest, and the population is edging from restive to explosive. The usual voices of the status quo will undoubtedly tell us that America needs to be worried about this. But while chaos in Iran is not without risk, it is greatly to be encouraged.
First, Iran has been a thorn in the side of the United States, both in Iraq and more broadly around the region, and as often as not it has meddled in our and others’ affairs without cost. There are few principles of international relations more critical than always giving the other guy a downside for making trouble. The disputed election makes the Iranian regime vulnerable; it is precisely at such moments of vulnerability that the regime can be made to suffer the downside of making us an enemy.
Second, the Iranian regime is bad for the Iranian people. Anything we can do to improve the chances of eliminating that regime improves the odds of cracking open Iranian society for the better. Violence is, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception in revolutions, but freedom often isn’t free – and as we have seen in recent decades, a surprising number of brutal but brittle regimes have crumpled in the face of popular uprising when they lost the will to stage their own Tianamen Square moment. There is only one way to find out; if the Iranian people are ready to take the chance, we should do whatever we can in our power to encourage them.
Third, a weak and inward-facing Iranian regime will be a lesser threat to continue pursuing its nuclear program and other forms of mischief, and may even provide opportunities for well-funded intelligence operations to take advantage of an unstable situation to further weaken Iranian capabilities.
Fourth, Iran has long stood as a propaganda victory for the Islamists, proof of a sort that an Islamic revolutionary state could stand against the West. That victory has inspired even Sunni Islamists who otherwise have little in common with Shi’ite Iran. The collapse or weakening of the regime at the hands of popular unrest would further demonstrate the dead end that is the radical Islamic political project.
America today has a great opportunity to make trouble for a hostile government while at the same time potentially lending an opportunity for freedom to its oppressed people. We should use whatever resources are at our disposal to make the best of that chance.