Who really knows why Iranians are protesting in the streets?

Iranians going into the street after the strike on Qassem Soleimani? “Joined together against us.” Iranians going into the street over the regime’s lies over its shootdown of a passenger jet? Well, “there are different reasons why people are in the street,” says … Nancy Pelosi?

That might be the preferred narrative for Iran’s ruling mullahcracy, but it’s a strange position for an American political leader to take. And yet, here we have Pelosi making that very argument on yesterday’s This Week with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. It doesn’t take long for Pelosi to get tangled up in the obvious contradictions of this argument and of the policy choices:

STEPHANOPOULOS: The question is how we get there. We’re seeing now demonstrations in the streets of Iran against the regime. Do you support those protesters and would it be a good thing if they brought the regime down?

PELOSI: Well, the regime — the protesters are — are protesting, as I understand it, this brand of protesters, about the fact that that plane went down. And many students were on that plane. And these are largely students in the street. I think the Iranians should have not had commercial flights going off when there was —

STEPHANOPOULOS: They’re calling out the regime for lying. They’re saying death to Khomeini as well.

PELOSI: Yes. Well, whatever it is. But the fact is this, the — there were protesters in the streets before against the regime. After the taking out of Soleimani, there were protesters in the street, joined together, as you know, against us. That wasn’t good. Taking down this plane is a terrible, terrible tragedy. And they should be held accountable for letting commercial flights go at a time that was so, so dangerous.

But there are different reasons why people are in the street. Of course we would love to see the aspirations of the people of Iran realized with a better situation there, but escalating the situation — unless we’ve exhausted every other remedy —

STEPHANOPOULOS: Which we haven’t?

PELOSI: Well, we don’t know that. We don’t know that. And if the first — the first action to be taken on the threat of — there — there are — a lot of bad actors who are doing bad things and threatening bad things to us. We know that. Iran being one of them. And it being a — it’s proxies doing bad things to our interests throughout the world. But how do we deal with that in a way that calms rather than escalates?

This is an absurd statement on multiple levels. This valediction from an Iranian state television anchor makes it plain why:

Pelosi’s argument assumes that Iranians have agency only when they protest against the US. It’s fair to assume that ordinary Iranians might not be terribly fond of us after years of economic sanctions, but assigning independence to those protests ignores the ruthless totalitarian nature of the Iranian regime — which Pelosi also acknowledges. The Soleimani protests served the regime’s interests, which is why they were allowed to occur at all, if not actively organized by the IRGC and the mullahs themselves for the useful idiots in the West.

Last week, Iranian ex-pat Parnaz Foroutan specifically warned the media about the nature of those protests:

Since Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was killed last week, I have been listening very carefully, to hear what is not being said. I have done this because these many decades later, I have witnessed Western media fail to discern between the public display of ideology sanctioned by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the quickly silenced protests and opinions of those who dissent.

I listened to The New York Times say that “Iran is in mourning” after his death. Headlines repeated the word mourning and showed crowds in the streets of Iran weeping and holding signs that promised revenge for the death of a beloved hero. The news has repeatedly referred to Soleimani as reveredby the Iranian people.

What has not been widely said is that this revered hero was the same man who oversaw the deaths of at least 1,500 Iranians protesting the regime just this fall, when it blacked out the internet and its security forces opened fire on the millions who took to the streets — a response understood to be under Soleimani’s orders, given his role in suppressing dissent. I haven’t heard anyone refer to Soleimani’s statement, which I heard broadcast on my Los Angeles radio station only weeks ago, that he was ready to kill millions more of his own countrymen in order to protect the regime. …

The international press has reported on those who have made public statements in Iran, their tear-filled condolences for the death of this revered hero, but virtually no one in the press has mentioned that some might be forced to do so in order to protect their livelihood. Because the state controls everything in Iran. If you want permission to build an apartment, shoot your movie or display your artwork, or you need a loan to start a business or to get the deed to your own home, you are at the mercy of government officials.

In order to make a living, you play the part of a patriot, even if you spit upon the mention of Soleimani’s name in the privacy of your own home, in front of those you trust with your life. Because to dissent is to risk your life. In a dictatorship, under the reign of a murderous government, you either show your devoted allegiance, you do what you are told, or you die.

This puts the protests taking place now in a starkly different context. These are protests against the regime, tearing down pictures of Soleimani, who spent decades oppressing Iranians in the manner Foroutan describes. They are chanting “Death to Khameini” in great risk to their lives, not “Death to America” at no risk whatsoever. Which of these seems more organic and credible as a measure of the Iranian peoples’ mindset? And yet, here we have Pelosi taking the mullah-organized protests at face value while shrugging off the current protests as student grievances at best.

Pelosi doesn’t fare much better on the policy argument, either. She tells Stephanopoulos that we should try de-escalating policies first, which … we did with the Iran deal. It didn’t stop Soleimani from organizing terror-group proxies and attacks on Americans, and it’s been clear for decades that Iran has no interest in de-escalation regardless. They want to impose a regional hegemony from Tehran of their particular strain of radical Islam, not play nice in the sandbox with others. That’s been apparent since 1979, the 1982 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, the series of kidnapping of Americans in Lebanon, and especially in their race to acquire nuclear weapons.

At least that’s an arguable point. By embracing the anti-US protests and denigrating the anti-regime protests, Pelosi exposed herself as incoherent at best … and totally Trump-obsessed as well.

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