NYT Editorial:

Now that some 22 people have been killed and at least 1,000 detained, the anti-government protests may be petering out without a clear indication of whether they will have a lasting impact. They certainly aren’t the end of the struggle among Iranian hard-liners, determined to maintain rigid Islamic laws that dictate how people should live; moderates like President Hassan Rouhani, who advocate social liberalization and engagement with the West; and now, assuming the protesters stay engaged, an angry working class.

On Monday, Mr. Rouhani came to the protesters’ defense, saying they objected not just to a weak economy but also to widespread corruption and the clerical government’s strict policies on personal conduct and freedoms. “One cannot force one’s lifestyle on the future generations,” he said in remarks reported by the semiofficial ISNA news agency.

All this reveals a real struggle for Iran’s soul that requires an approach more sophisticated than Mr. Trump’s, which would exploit the turmoil to justify reneging on the nuclear deal. That would free Iran to resume nuclear activities and enable new sanctions that would shift Iranian rage from Tehran to Washington. Some American officials and analysts want to go further and overthrow Iran’s government.

But Iran’s future is for the Iranians to determine. The United States needs to be humble about what it doesn’t know and cautious about more direct involvement in the country’s politics. America has a troubled history with Iran, including overthrowing the country’s democratically elected leader in 1953. Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Vietnam are haunting reminders of America’s failures at trying to orchestrate political and social change abroad.

The question is not whether but how to help Iranians who favor nonviolent change. The United States, with its Western allies, should, of course, advocate the right of Iranians to seek peaceful political change, condemn the arrests of peaceful protesters and the violence against them, and urge internet companies to make it harder for Iran’s leaders to block social media apps like Telegram that are so crucial to organizing and public debate. If he cares about the Iranian people, as he claims, Mr. Trump will also lift the ban on Iranians traveling to America.

But the president should also be aware that foolish moves by his administration could empower the most regressive forces and set back reforms that could bring Iran fully into the community of nations.

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