When the BBC world service released the results of its 2004 presidential poll it revealed an interesting figure. Of the sixteen linguistic ethnical groups surveyed around the world, Persians were overwhelmingly the most supportive of President Bush. In fact, over 52 percent of Iranians preferred Republican George W. Bush to challenger John Kerry who only received 42 percent support. Thus, surprisingly, unlike in the United States where the presidential race was relegated to a couple of percentage points, in Iran President Bush won by a landslide.
Numerous other sources have confirmed these results. Renowned intellectuals and journalists have agreed. For instance, Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, who spent an entire week in Iran, recently wrote: “Finally, I’ve found a pro-American country. Everywhere I’ve gone in Iran, with one exception, people have been exceptionally friendly and fulsome in their praise for the United States, and often for President George W. Bush as well.” Thomas Friedman, another Pulitzer Prize winner and ardent critic of the war in Iraq, wrote: “young Iranians are loving anything their government hates, such as Mr. Bush, and hating anything their government loves. Iran . . . is the ultimate red state.”
The well-documented pro-Bush leaning in Iran, which is relatively widespread, has perplexed many western technocrats. Part of the answer may be that Iran is changing at such a rapid rate that the media has had a difficult time reporting or understanding the situation inside the country. Also, Friedman may be right that young Iranians are reactionary, “loving anything their government hates.” But there are other social reasons, including the availability of satellite dishes and the Internet.
Millions of Iranian homes receive illegal satellite television beamed in by Iranian-American expatriates. With a mix of pop music, political discussion, and international news these stations have had a profound impact on the cultural and political situation inside of Iran. The Iranian dictatorship has repeatedly tried to crack down on dishes and the Internet, but they have been largely unsuccessful. It is presently estimated that between five to seven million homes receive satellite television, and an estimated three million have Internet access. To the dissatisfaction of the reigning ayatollahs Iranians do not live in a closed off cave.
Because of the availability of satellite television millions of Iranians were able to hear President Bush’s State of the Union address. The Persians were once again encouraged by the President’s vision when he said, “To the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America Stands with you.” This reiterated his support to the Iranian freedom fighters inside of the Islamic Republic. Several political analysts have confirmed that this was in direct reference to the pro-democracy movement in Iran. “The President was sending a message to the people of Iran that if they rise up America will stand by their side,” said political analyst Charles Krauthammer.
Of course, President Bush’s declaration of support to the Iranian youth does not mean military intervention for the purpose of regime change. According to a recent poll by the National Iranian American Council, a non-profit civic organization in the United States, over 90 percent of Iranian-Americans are against any type of military attack on Iran. In fact, although Iranians are openly pro-American, any type of military intervention by the United States or Israel will turn the nationalist population in Iran immediately anti-American.
The political ideology advocated by the Republican Party for a free, democratic Iran is one of a peaceful transition to democracy. For example, Republican Senator Rick Santorum recently introduced the Iran Freedom and Support Act, legislation that commits America to “actively support a national referendum in Iran with oversight by international observers and monitors to certify the integrity and fairness of the referendum.” The act further calls for financial and moral support to pro-democracy groups as a means towards a peaceful transition to regime change. There is no mention of military intervention, nor has there ever been any such mention.
Many questionable organizations have promoted a theory originally initiated by Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani dubbed the “Nationalistic Tactic.” This theory rallies nationalistic feelings around a fictional military invasion of Iran as a final survival tool for the dying regime in Iran. The strategy calls for the suffocation of the free exchange of ideas within the Iranian community and for the luring of naive apolitical Iranians with nationalistic pride. In the end, the theory calls for barraging the truth to such a degree that anyone speaking otherwise is regarded as an enemy of Iran. Unfortunately these groups are far from doing a service to the people of Iran and should not be regarded as friends of freedom. Luckily, in spite of their propaganda campaign polls from within Iran show that people of Iran have not been fooled.
A Tehran University student summed it up best: “The Iranian people support President Bush because he supports our cause. As long President Bush stands with the Iranian people, the Iranian people will stand with him.”
Slater Bakhtavar is an Iranian-American democratic activist.