Regime Change in Iran: Yes, We Can
President Obama has finally come out unequivocally on the side of the victimized people of Iran, condemning the regime's violent actions and saying there were "big questions" about the election results. He wisely mentioned the videotaped, tear-jerking death of Neda Soltani, saying, "We have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history."
He even went so far as to declare his support for the principles that the Iranians are fighting for, making statements that would be called neoconservative or Wilsonian if done by another man. "The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech. If the government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent, not coercion. That is what Iran's own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government," he said. These are words that will resonate with the Iranian people and, if broadcast to the masses, will have results on the streets of Tehran.
President Obama initially refrained from harshly coming out against the Iranian regime, fearing the regime would try to paint its internal conflict as an international one, attributing the instability to an American plot in an attempt to undermine the credibility of the opposition. This line of thinking fails to acknowledge that it is the Iranian regime, not the Iranian people, that has the credibility issue. The word of the government has become bankrupt and no effort to stir up nationalism will make them forgive the transgressions against them. The Iranian government has consistently tried to frame each expression of dissent against it as a Western plot to no avail.
The Green Revolution may succeed on its own, but the U.S. can and must play a role in this struggle with worldwide ramifications. President Obama needs to go beyond making powerful individual statements and launch a sustained political offensive aimed at energizing the Iranian people and placing the world's attention on them. In short, he needs to go back to the rapid-response, emotion-rousing campaign that made him president.
He needs to specifically and frequently mention the death of Neda, and immediately react to each new crackdown with condemnation and a call for the release of political prisoners and the allowing of dissent. Stories like how the regime has demanded "bullet fees" before handing the dead body of a killed demonstrator to his father need to be loudly broadcast. He needs to make clear to those in the security forces that they have the choice of laying down their arms, choosing not to kill people who look like their sons and daughters for the sake of a failed regime, or engaging in horrific acts that they will each be held personally responsible for at a later time. This sounds simple, and indeed it is, but this overt support can have a dramatic effect.
President Obama has other options he should be exercising to guarantee the success of the uprising. The president should call for the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which has filibuster-proof bipartisan support, to be immediately passed. This will allow the federal government to place sanctions on companies that supply Iran with gasoline or refined petroleum products, striking at the regime's most vulnerable economic pressure point, as Iran currently imports about 40% of its gasoline. If aggressively used, the government will simply be unable to operate when combined with ongoing internal discontent.
This action should be combined with meetings between high-level officials and members of the Iranian opposition and at least an attempt at passing UN resolutions that call for an end to the regime's oppression. President Obama should call on citizens to place their investments in terror-free mutual funds, giving them instructions on how they can personally contribute to solving the situation and helping the war on terror in ways his predecessor never did. NGOs and labor unions should be called upon to establish accounts to provide Iranians on strike with the financial means to continue their resistance.
He can also authorize the federal government to identify individuals in the Iranian government guilty of committing violence against the protesters, freezing the assets of people tied to the Revolutionary Guards, Basiji, or any other entity involved. This will let each of the regime's thugs know that their names will be publicized, their wallets will be immediately lightened, and they will ultimately be prosecuted when the regime falls for any crimes they commit. This will give them even more reason to defy orders to attack their fellow Iranians.
All of this will go a long way in enabling a regime change in Iran at minimal cost and with no U.S. military campaign. However, even more options of a covert nature exist. Emergency funding for Iranian opposition forces can be authorized, allowing them to hold conferences and meetings to unify bickering factions, perhaps even creating a government-in-exile representing all minorities and political constituencies, and to pay for the printing of materials like the Seven-Point Manifesto. Contact should be made with Iranians to discuss what they need and how we can provide it. Cyber warfare experts can take aim at the regime's ability to communicate and defeat their efforts to censor the Internet. The intelligence community can try to convince, or force, key members of the security services to defect. These are just some of the options available and someone with a more creative mind can surely think up better ideas. The point is that this thinking process doesn't even appear to have been initiated, or if it has, isn't as large as it needs to be.
Regime change in Iran is possible, and should we become involved, it can become a near certainty. There is not a moment to be wasted.