In my Commentary of 1 January I drew attention to the absence of any substantive references in our media to the successful defeat of the ISIS caliphate by Iraqi and Syrian forces, with support provided by US and Australian forces. I drew particular attention to Trump’s delegation of decision-making to Secretary Tillerson and commanders in the field and to his indication that the defeat of ISIS was a priority. This contrasted with the dire situation a year ago described in a special press briefing given on 22 December by the US envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS (this was not reported in our media). His description of “a dire situation” may have reflected Obama’s policy of first requiring his clearance to take military action and his refusal to have US troops on the ground in Iraq (except for Special Forces).
For Australia a joint announcement of the defeat of the ISIS caliphate was made on 10 December by the PM and Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence and the announced withdrawal of Australian strike aircraft (but the retention of Australian training assistance and Special Forces to contribute to the on-going threat from IS groups) was made on 22 Dec by our Defence Minister, Marise Payne. In neither case was there any reference to the possible influence on Islamist beliefs elsewhere or on Australian policy in regard to Islamic influences on governments generally. My Commentary did suggest however that the reported “widespread protests in Iran provides an opportunity for political leaders in the West (including Australia) to call for a more democratic society and protection of human rights in that country”.
Since my Commentary was circulated it is apparent from press reports and TV news that the protests in Iran are not only widespread across the country but seem also to be widespread across Iranian citizens. Calls for the resignation of President Hassan Rouhani (“elected” in 2013 and “re-elected” last May) and of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni have been accompanied by calls of “Death” for them, and TV footage has shown attacks on police in the streets.
The article below published in the Wall St Journal on 1 Jan rejects the proposal that Trump say nothing and argues that Iranian protesters are looking for American support. Trump himself has tweeted in favourable and has said that the US is “watching” for breaches of human rights. Two other articles attached provide analysis of probable reasons for the outbreak of protests on such a wide scale. Note that the first article claims that “Tehran is estimated to be channelling up to $26 billion to Damascus in investment and aid each year, and 1000 Iranians have died in the conflict there, according to an official statement. The true number is likely to be far higher”. Second article here.
There is potential for a major change in governance in Iran, particularly a reduction in the power of Islam and a diminution of the power of the Supreme Leader, which Australia should support. Turnbull should follow Trump and make a brief statement (but not a tweet!) saying that we support in Iran more democratic governance and increased protection of human rights. Any such development would also have an influence beyond Iran into other areas in the Middle East.