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

By Michael Rubin

Posted: Thursday, May 3, 2007


Publication Date: May 3, 2007

Resident Scholar Michael Rubin  

Support for independent civil society and diplomacy need not be mutually exclusive. An uprising may be unlikely, but long-term security depends upon accountability of the regime to ordinary Iranians. We should not ignore the increasing frequency in student protests and labor unrest. Nor should we ignore that response to previous engagement has been intransigence and crackdown, not liberalism.

We agree that any military strike would enable the regime to rally its citizens around the flag. An Islamic Republic of Iran with nuclear arms would be like dying of a heart attack while a military strike like dying of cancer; that is why effective preventative medicine is so necessary.

Moscow and Beijing are playing power politics. They will never agree to effective sanctions. The fault is not ours. We should not sacrifice national security upon the altar of multilateralism. Effectiveness matters. There are other economic levers at our disposal, though.

The 2003 Iranian offer is bogus. Washington and Tehran were already talking in Geneva, although Tehran broke the commitments it made there. That was the channel, not an unsigned English fax. Even the Swiss foreign ministry acknowledges privately that Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador, was freelancing. Nor do serious proposals come with the caveat that the issuing party only agrees with 80 percent of its own paper.

But, back to the issue: I wish I had your faith in Iran's "pragmatic conservatives." These are the men who built and concealed the nuclear program, and misled the IAEA. Nor is it wise to overemphasize factionalism. Every country has factions. But, when push comes to shove, power in Iran rests with the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards, not parliamentarians and diplomats. For negotiations to be successful, we need to deal with the people who can make a commitment and have it stick. That was the lesson Clinton learned at Camp David II, and that is why negotiations with the Libyans took an extra three years. The history of Iranian adherence to its own commitments does not build confidence.

Ideology matters. We have to assume that Ayatollahs Khamenei, Mesbah-Yazdi, Jannati, and President Ahmadinejad mean what they say. Regime preservation is not in our interests. I look forward to the day when Iran is not a pariah. We should have no more "Chicken Kiev" moments where we sacrifice freedom so as not to complicate diplomacy. Nor, as we have with North Korea, should the deal ever become more important than its contents.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI.

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