Iranian Reformers Don’t Want Dick Cheney’s Help

TEHRAN, IRAN—It wasn’t quite President Bush, the flight suit and “Mission Accomplished.” But Vice President Dick Cheney still managed to flex some rhetorical muscles from the hangar deck of the U.S.S. John C. Stennis on Friday.

Speaking just 150 miles off the Iranian coast, Mr. Cheney proclaimed, “With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike.”

He added, “We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.”

Mr. Cheney’s remarks may have pleased Washington hawks. They may also have mollified some U.S. allies in the Middle East whose nervousness about Iran will only have been increased by this week’s IAEA announcement that the Ahmadinejad government is beginning to enrich uranium on a greater scale than ever before.

But in downtown Tehran on Monday, Mr. Cheney’s verbal comments didn’t seem to be having much effect.

“That is all just empty bluff,” 37-year-old Mohammad said with a mixture of scorn and nonchalance as he took a break from working in the Farhang Cinema on Shariati Street. (The Grudge was showing alongside two Iranian movies.)

Mohammad is no fan of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, nor is he blind to his nation’s problems. Iranian society, he complained, is riddled with corruption and inefficiency:

“Most of the people have economic problems but rich people can access whatever they want. Some of the people who run the country don’t even have a school diploma, while people with university degrees can’t get a proper job.”

His dissatisfaction with Iran’s failings was, however, more than matched by a visceral distaste for American foreign policy. Referring again to Mr. Cheney’s remarks, he said: “The American government wants to appoint its own government here. It has always wanted that, and the reason it is against Iran is because it has not succeeded.”

Similar sentiments emerged in numerous interviews with Tehranis this week. Even the most politically active opponents of Mr. Ahmadinejad insisted that change in Iran must be a truly indigenous project, and cannot be forced by American military intervention or political meddling.

On the face of things, Davoud Hermidas Bavand seems a perfect fit for the Washington template of an advocate for change. Mr. Bavand, a political analyst who lectures in international law at Tehran University, was educated in part in the U.S. He is affiliated with the Iranian National Front, a secular and pro-democracy movement that is so harsh a critic of the status quo that its candidates are not permitted to stand in elections.

“People are not happy with Mr. Ahmadinejad and his entourage,” Mr. Bavand said. “People are tired of extremism and fundamentalism. They want answers on things like unemployment—the real problems of Iranians. Talking about the Holocaust—whether it was six million who died, or five million, or less—is of no concern to Iranians.”

But Mr. Bavand is dubious, at best, about American expressions of concern in relation to human-rights abuses in Iran.

“They close their eyes” to Saudi Arabia’s human-rights abuses, he said, “yet they pay close attention to Iran. If it were really a principle, it would not just be applied to one nation.”

Iranian Reformers Don’t Want Dick Cheney’s Help