The Way We Dealt with the Soviets Is the Way to Deal with Iran
The Way We Dealt with the Soviets Is the Way to Deal with Iran
By Michael A. Ledeen
Posted: Monday, March 12, 2007
Parliamentary Brief (March 2007)
Publication Date: March 9, 2007
Of the many errors committed by Western governments and their intelligence services in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, none was so grave as a fundamental error of strategic vision: the failure to recognize we would automatically be involved in a regional war, not simply a battle against the regime of Saddam Hussein. We imagined that Afghanistan was secure and that we could deal with Iraq all by itself. Then, at our convenience, we could move on against the other terror-masters in Damascus and Tehran. But that conceit has been shattered. Everyone knows that the terror war against Iraq and our coalition forces there is actively supported by Syria and Iran, with the mullahs in the first rank. There will never be decent security in Iraq or Afghanistan so long as the mullahs and the Assads rule in Tehran and Damascus. Sooner or later, we will have to confront them, whatever we may wish.
That decision was made by our enemies, not by us. Iran has long been at war with the West, above all against the United States. The Ayatollah Khomeini branded the U.S. "The Great Satan" in 1979, and Iranians and Iranian proxies have been killing Americans and American friends and allies ever since, from Lebanon to Iraq, from Afghanistan to Somalia, from Gaza and the West Bank to Argentina (which has recently issued indictments and arrest warrants against several top officials of the Islamic Republic). In recent days we have seen evidence of Iran-made explosive weapons deployed against coalition soldiers in Iraq, received confessions from officials of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps--including the operational chief of the Quds Force, whose job it is to kill Iran's enemies abroad, and who reports directly to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei--and seen the evidence of high-powered Austrian rifles sold to Iran, now showing up in the hands of Iraqi terrorists.
Meanwhile, the EU, confident that sweet reasonableness would produce a step along the road to peace with Iran, where cowboyish unilateralism had failed, has now confessed the failure of its diplomatic enterprise, informing the 25 members that Iran will indeed have atomic bombs. A recent memo to the EU's "foreign minister," Javier Solana, admitted that negotiations and sanctions will not stop the Iranian nuclear project. Nor will such measures stop the Iranians from arming, training, guiding and funding terrorists on a global scale, which should have provoked a vigorous Western response long since. We should have started with the successful "Helsinki" policies of the Cold War, when support for human rights in the Soviet Empire eventually eroded the communist tyranny. Instead, we have usually been silent in the face of vicious repression, torture, and a tempo of executions of political opponents that makes Iran the world's number two (after China) in the application of the death penalty.
The Iranians and their proxies are doing their utmost to sabotage hopes for peace in the entire region. This would seem to require effective action from the West, but instead, the noisiest sector of Western public opinion is frightened that the United States might actually act against Iran. Despite innumerable assurances from every imaginable quarter in Washington, the noisemakers assure us that the Americans are planning to invade Iran (or at a minimum bomb the Iranian nuclear sites), just as they invaded Iraq.
So far as I can tell, there is no truth to the alarms. Indeed, it would be fairer to condemn the Bush Administration for excessive timorousness with regard to Iran. Until a few weeks ago, our troops were under orders not to kill Iranians in Iraq, and if by accident an Iranian were arrested, he was released almost immediately. Now our soldiers are permitted to strike back against their killers, and Iranians without proper diplomatic credentials are held for interrogation. It's little enough. Too little, in fact.
The proper strategy toward Iran is non-violent regime change, of the sort that was accomplished to the ruin of the Soviet Empire. Military attack against Iran would be a mistake, indeed it would constitute a tragic admission of the utter failure of the United States and her allies to conceive and conduct a serious Iran policy over the course of nearly three decades. Political support for the tens of millions of Iranians who detest their tyrannical leaders is both morally obligatory and strategically sound. Perhaps ten per cent of Soviet citizens were willing to openly challenge the Kremlin; the Iranian regime's own public opinion polling shows that upwards of 70 percent of Iranians want greater freedom and better relations with the United States, and hardly a day goes by without strikes, demonstrations, and the occasional armed attack against the mullahcracy. Political support would include serious broadcasting into Iran, money for workers (as America and Western Europe did for Portugal in the 1970s and Poland In the 1980s) to enable them to go on strike in the oil fields, the textile factories, and the trucks and vans on the country's highways, and provision of modern communications equipment (servers, laptops, cell and satellite phones, etc.) to pro-democracy groups, of which there are scores.
Support for revolution in Iran should have been undertaken before the military assault against Saddam. I argued in 2002-2003, when hundreds of thousands of Iranians were demonstrating in the streets of the big cities, that a successful non-violent regime change in Iran would have enabled us to topple Saddam with a minimum of armed violence, and perhaps with none at all.
A rational strategy for regime change in Iran is more urgently required today than four years ago. But we cannot even begin to debate it so long as the issue is limited to Iraq alone, and the Bush Administration is blamed in advance for something it does not want to do. It, and every other Western government, should be blamed for their failure to see the war in its regional context, and to support the Iranian people all along. Perhaps it is yet possible for us to liberate Iran, and eliminate the Middle East's most threatening regime, without military action.
Michael A. Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at AEI.