Iran didn’t ban morality police — it duped press, and Biden administration
For a few hours this past weekend, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism pulled off a global disinformation operation to undermine a popular revolt, falsely suggesting the regime in Tehran had moderated its position on women’s rights.
The truth: Iranian women are still subject to the oppression of a radical theocracy in Tehran, millions of Iranians want to see an end to the Islamic Republic of Iran and President Joe Biden needs to finally pick a side.
How did it happen? More than 11 weeks ago, the brutal killing of a young woman arrested for not properly wearing an Islamic head-covering set off what increasingly appears to be a national revolution in Iran — with more than 1,800 protests documented around the country and more on the way despite hundreds already murdered and thousands more detained by the regime.
Knowing that underground activists were urging a three-day national strike this week, state media ran a series of quotes from Iran’s chief prosecutor, which sent mixed signals about whether the mullahs would continue cracking down on women who do not wear a hijab according to the regime’s religious specifications.
By Sunday morning in the United States, the New York Times sent a breaking news alert declaring that Iran had abolished its so-called morality police. The Wall Street Journal soon followed. On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Margaret Brennan opened her interview with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying, “I want to start with some breaking news overnight out of Iran: They have abolished the morality police.”
Within minutes of the Sunday’s breaking news, Persian-speaking reporters took to Twitter to expose the regime’s gambit. Iran’s state television and its official Arabic-language channel soon denied the reports. A few hours later, Reuters filed a more carefully crafted story, clarifying that there was “no confirmation of the closure from the Interior Ministry which is in charge of the morality police” and that the chief prosecutor “was not responsible for overseeing the force.” Other outlets would soon follow.
As of today, the regime in Tehran has yet to pull back on a single element of its brutality and repression — whether it be targeted at women or millions of other Iranians, including minors.
Based on the convoluted statement of one official in a regime that bans all basic freedoms, including freedom of the press, Western reporters and editors irresponsibly pushed a misleading narrative designed by Tehran to undermine the people in the streets demanding freedom.
Fortunately, the ruse didn’t work. Thousands of businesses around Iran are now closed. Workers are on strike. Students are bringing upheaval to their schools. More and more people are joining the revolt.
Media criticism in this case is warranted, with the need to reassess how newsrooms cover deceitful and repressive dictatorships like Iran. But coverage of the Biden administration’s Iran policy must improve as well. The White House and State Department are trying to have it both ways — claiming support for the people of Iran while holding the door open to an economic bailout for their oppressors.
Blinken expressed solidarity with the protesters during his CBS interview Sunday. But in a separate appearance on CNN, Blinken was asked if nuclear negotiations with Iran were still ongoing. His response? “We continue to believe that ultimately diplomacy is the most effective way to deal with this, but that’s not where the focus is.”
In other words, an appeasement pact that would generate $274 billion for the regime in its first year — $1 trillion by 2030 — remains on the table for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to accept at a time of his choosing. Contrary to Biden’s pre-election declaration that he would “free Iran,” Blinken’s comment signals a willingness to sacrifice the Iranian people if their oppressors would agree to delay a nuclear weapon by a few short years — ignoring other potential options to achieve the same goal without paying Tehran’s extortion racket.
How demoralizing to millions who might be contemplating joining the revolt. President Biden should be put to a choice: The Iranian people or their terror-sponsoring, anti-American oppressors. Maximum support for Iran’s new revolution starts with taking the nuclear deal off the table and working with European allies to restore UN sanctions on the regime. From there, Biden could authorize the provision of supplies, money, and intelligence to the protest movement — all with an explicit goal of precipitating the collapse of the Islamic Republic. Other active measures, including cyberattacks to disrupt security force crackdowns, could be considered, too.
The Islamic Republic is an enemy of the United States, directly responsible for the murders of hundreds of U.S. citizens and actively plotting to assassinate former officials. A regime that chants “Death to America” is now being challenged by people who honk their horns when Team USA defeats Iran in the World Cup. It’s a moment America has been waiting more than 40 years to see — one the Biden administration appears comfortable letting slip away.
Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, served as a National Security Council official, deputy chief of staff to former US Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and US Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer. He was sanctioned by Iran in 2020.