A wave of spontaneous protests over Iran's weak economy swept into Tehran with college students and others chanting against the government just hours after hard-liners held their own rally in support of the Islamic Republic's clerical establishment. Image Credit: AP

By New Year, 40 years ago, revolutionary ferment was beginning in Iran. From exile in Paris, Ayatollah Khomeini called for the blood of the martyrs to water the religion tree. The following year, the Shah was driven into exile. The Ayatollah returned and took power.
This New Year, the boot is on the other foot. In many Iranian cities, large crowds are protesting against high prices and the authoritarian theocracy that still rules them. They are calling for the overthrow of Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Khamenei, and the country’s President, Hassan Rouhani. Under the Shah, Iran was a pro-western regime oppressing an anti-western people. Today, the roles are reversed. Demonstrators seek western freedoms. Islamist rulers seek to crush them.
The last time something of this sort happened in Iran, in 2009, the United States did nothing to help. The then US president, Barack Obama, was frightened of seeming to be anti-Muslim. He was happy to support the Muslim Brotherhood’s overthrow of a pro-western regime in Egypt, but would not back Iran’s Green Movement. The revolt failed.
There are encouraging signs that US President Donald Trump is not making the same mistake. He has told the Iranian regime that it is right to fear its own people. “The world is watching,” he warns. “Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever.”

It is remarkable how much the West has been cowed by Iran for 40 years. Embarrassed by its earlier errors, the West has weakly endured its endless kidnappings of its citizens, nuclear proliferation, aggression against allies and active sponsorship of terrorism. The West now has a huge interest in regime change there.

Obviously, this is not a matter for armed force. It is, for the West, a classic opportunity for “soft power”.

The best model is probably that used by the US in the 1980s to support the Solidarity Movement in Poland against Soviet rule. US backing, which had a strong trade union element, gave money and know-how and made sure that the world knew about Solidarity’s mission. Leaders like former US president Ronald Reagan, the Polish Pope, John Paul II, and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher reached over the heads of the regime to help the Polish people. You can bet that most western elites will shirk from doing something similar for Iranians. They have over-invested in Rouhani’s regime, absurdly describing him as “moderate”. They look down their noses at anything said by Trump. Yet, a liberal, secular Iran demanded by its own people is exactly what the West should want. Already the ayatollahs are warning of the “hidden hand”, meaning America. No need to hide that hand: It should open wide and give freely to those in need. Here is a chance for British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to break with the likely Europen Union consensus and push a British foreign policy that helps human liberty.

— The Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2018

Charles Moore has been editor of the Spectator, the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Telegraph. He is the authorised biographer of Margaret Thatcher.