Should the U.S. Pursue Regime Change in Iran? Part II

By Michael Rubin

Posted: Monday, May 2, 2007

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CFR.org    

Publication Date: May 2, 2007

That all options remain on the table is reality; it has nothing to do with regime change. So long as the Islamic Republic remains the world's greatest sponsor of terrorism and is not forthright about its nuclear program, military action will remain a last resort--one with so many incumbent costs that hopefully it will never occur. The idea that there is a preventive war strategy to change the regime is at best a straw-man argument and at worst a conspiracy theory.

Criticism regarding carrier group dispatch is misplaced. First, it is important that Arab states in the Persian Gulf recognize that the United States is going to defend its interests and protect our allies. Second, while Washington assumes events revolve around our decisions, the danger is Iranian overconfidence. Decision-makers in Iran, those in the office of the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guard, may confuse democratic debate with weakness and inadvertently cross a red line. We know from their statements that they do not take U.S. diplomatic demarches seriously. That the United States is willing to demonstrate red lines aids transparency and reduces the risk of accidental conflict.

With regard to engagement, we need to abandon the notion that long-term strategies to encourage the accountability of the Iranian government to its citizenry and short-term diplomacy are mutually exclusive. Providing moral support for the Vahed transportation workers' ongoing attempts to form the Islamic Republic's first independent trade union will not bring instant change. That does not mean it is wise to ignore them or to collude with the regime that seeks to crush them.

No argument that assistance--when handled improperly--can taint dissidents. But let's not be ahistorical: Tehran's crackdown on dissent predated the congressional appropriation of $75 million. Hamid Reza Taraqi, head of the hard-line Islamic Coalition Party, foreshadowed the crackdown in an interview in Etemad well before the Congressional appropriation. Dissidents like Ahmad Batebi and Mansour Ossanlou put their necks on the line regardless of what the regime says about them. The most vocal opponents to U.S. assistance are not dissidents who oppose theocratic dictatorship but rather the reformers who want to soften but preserve clerical rule.

Past practice shows that a strategy of speaking softly and waving a big carrot does not work with Iran. Tehran has become conditioned to expect reward for non-compliance. It is time we end that cycle. What sticks do you see as effective, Robert?

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI.

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