What should President Barack Obama do in 2010 about the saber-rattling nuclear waanabees regime in Tehran?
He's getting plenty of advice. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen insists that the current situation "screams—"not for tougher sanctions but for a "do nothing" U.S. response. Cohen wants a reprise of 1989 when President George H.W. Bush did nothing — and the Berlin Wall fell. Never mind that the apocalyptic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is no peace-seeking Mikhail Gorbachev.
Some respected academics also see no reason for action. At a conference at Columbia University, which two years ago rolled out the red carpet for Ahmadinejad, Professor Richard Bulliet apologized for the Iranian president's repression of dissidents by comparing it to the trial of Vice President Aaron Burr for treason during President Thomas Jefferson's administration. And Arizona State's Shalha Talebi argued that the Iranian regime wasn't that bad because Adolf Hitler — and Richard Nixon — were worse.
Thankfully, there are other voices who are deeply moved by the courage of thousands of ordinary Iranians who demand a future based on freedom and democracy.
The House overwhelmingly voted for new sanctions to crack down on energy companies doing business with Iran. The regime depends on energy exports for 80 percent of its hard currency. Iran's population has doubled since the shah's time but exports only a little more than half the oil it did then. The fact that it has to import refined petroleum to meet the needs of restive consumers is exactly why prompt Senate action and a presidential signature are so crucial.
And now, California is striking a blow against the Mullahtocracy. Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has launched a probe into the insurance industry to ensure its compliance with the new state law that prohibits California insurance companies from investing in countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism.
As a result, the insurance companies that have cooperated admitted to an astounding $12 billion in investments in companies that do businesses with the key Iranian energy, nuclear, banking and defense industries that are propping up Ahmadenijad's repressive and dangerous regime. Hearings next month will focus on forcing other insurance companies to come clean and then remove their billions in indirect investments within three months.
If, after this hearing, an insurer still refuses to divest, Poizner will take all legal action available to him to effectuate divestment.
At our recent news conference with Poizner, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Iranian Muslim activists announced our support for the insurance commissioner's trailblazing efforts. We urged insurance regulators in all 50 states to follow suit, demanding that insurance companies, who possess huge investment portfolios, to hit the tyrannical regime where it really hurts.
But won't all these sanctions end up hurting the people of Iran?
Roozbeh Farahanipour, a reformist leader from the Marze Por Gohar Party who was jailed and tortured by the regime in 1999 before escaping the clutches of the Mullahs, recently returned from a perilous journey back home where he participated in street demonstrations. Frahanipour insists Iranians understand that tougher sanctions are the only answer:
"Every day of repression convinces more and more ordinary Iranians that they will never restore democracy without feeling some pain". The alternative of military action, he said, is a draconian move everyone hopes will never be necessary.
Using every legal and moral arrow in our democratic quiver in Washington and Sacramento is the least Americans can do on behalf of peace and the people of Iran. The rest will be up to President Obama.RABBI ABRAHAM COOPER is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.