Regime change in Iran – Polish Solidarity style - is now officially on the Whitehouse’s agenda.
The Christian Science Monitor reports:
With Poland's Solidarity movement of the 1980s as its model, the Bush administration wants to boost support for opposition groups inside Iran as a way to counter the actions of the Tehran government.
Maybe (though I doubt it) having learnt from the disastrous effort to try and ‘liberate’ Iraq from without and set up democracy from above, the Bush administration is now looking at ways of fermenting groups within Iran to do the regime changing for them. Which is a small step forward, I suppose. The Monitor continues…
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress this week that the administration is seeking $75 million in emergency funding to immediately begin ratcheting up support for pro-democracy forces inside Iran. Currently, $10 million was budgeted for such efforts, and little of that money has been spent.
But what was the extent of the US involvement in the ‘Solidarity Revolution’? What kind of convert action can we expect the US to take?
Washington, the Vatican, Warsaw
The Solidarity Trade Union was officially recognized in August 1980. By the following year, however, the pressure on General Jaruzelski from Moscow to do something about Walesa and his chums was becoming intense.
But the US knew little of what was to follow. On the Centre for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency web pages it says:
Probably the mildest public statement to this effect by a US official came from Secretary Haig himself. He noted that although the US government had received what he considered “a fair, acceptable level of intelligence” on what the Polish regime “might” do, Washington had been surprised by the Polish army’s willingness to carry it out.
When martial law began in December, the US, like everyone else, was totally surprised. One Defense Department official described the episode to the press as a “collective failure in intelligence gathering and assessment.” Sounds a little familiar, don’t you think?
But the US had been receiving information on preparations for the crackdown from Col. Ryszard Kuklinski, a military officer in the commie authorities – though why the US Intelligence services didn’t pass on this knowledge to anyone in the government or in Solidarity is unclear to me.
Following the communist government's outlawing of the Solidarity movement, which the Pope had publicly and covertly supported, Reagan suspended Poland's Most Favored Nation trading status, costing the already cash-strapped country some $6 billion a year in sales.
In May 1983, Ronald Reagan issued the NSDD 32 Defense Policy Directive, which included authorization for U.S. aid to be given to the then illegal Solidarity union for the express purposes of creating clandestine Polish newspapers and broadcasting operations.
Of course, the Vatican and the Whitehouse worked closely together on this project.
Reagan later told Carl Bernstein, then at Time magazine (March 1992):
"We [Reagan and John Paul] both felt that a great mistake had been made at Yalta and something should be done," Reagan explains. "Solidarity was the very weapon for bringing this about because it was an organization of the laborers of Poland."
To this end, Time wrote that “Tons of equipment--fax machines (the first in Poland), printing presses, transmitters, telephones, shortwave radios, video cameras, photocopiers, telex machines, computers, word processors—were smuggled into Poland via channels established by priests and American agents and representatives of the AFL-CIO and European labor movements."
The magazine goes on:
"Books and pamphlets challenging the authority of the communist government were printed by the thousands. Comic books for children recast Polish fables and legends, with Jaruzelski pictured as the villain, communism as the red dragon, and Walesa as the heroic knight." Radio messages proclaiming "Solidarity lives" and "Resist!" were broadcast by Solidarity with "a transmitter supplied by the CIA through church channels."
The clandestine U.S. support using the Vatican's Catholic network grew to $8 million a year during the mid 1980s. High tech communications equipment was smuggled in along with printing equipment, supplies, VCRs...
Thanks to the Vatican's covert connections, over a seven year period 1,500 underground newspapers and journals and 2,400 books and pamphlets were circulated.
So this is the kind of thing - along with probable covert military raids to disable nuclear reactors, and even airborne bombing raids - that might be expected over the coming months and years in Iran. What is crucial, however, is how free internal groups in Iran will be to try and change the system from below – which is the only guarantee of a successful regime change.
There are two problems with comparing communist Poland with Iran today. Firstly, the Iranian state is not nearly as weak as the communist regime was back in those days, when the economy was in freefall and the communists and Jaruzelski had no legitamacy at all. The Iranian president has just won an election. Secondly, Solidarity had a pretty positive view of America and its involvment in its affairs. But, as Bahman Baktiari, a specialist in Middle East politics at the University of Maine told CSM, because of the disaster in Iraq, "Any group identified with the US loses credibility."
Better let the Iranians deal with it by themselves, then. Regime change has to come from within. The US assisted Solidarity, but that movement grew from Polish roots.
There is no doubt, though, that the Iranian regime is not that tolerant of the opposition. Here are photos from an Iranian blog of the suppression of an apparently peaceful demonstration by Nematollahi Sufi Muslims in Qom on 13 February (see pro-war, marxist Normblog).