President Trump is on the verge of his big decision on the Iran Deal, but it seems to me that the Iran Deal is secondary; in fact, the passionate debate over the Deal leads us to the central issue. Whether he opts out of the Deal or stays in, Trump needs to decide what to do about Iran.
The Islamic Republic is at war with us. Two successive supreme leaders have declared and waged that war, led their people in chants of “death to America,” and armed, trained, funded and led IRGC and Hezbollah forces worldwide — along with proxies that killed and kidnapped Americans throughout the Middle East and east Africa.
When Deal supporters say that we must stay in the Deal in order to avoid war with Iran, they ignore the fact that the war started in 1979 and is very much in force today.
Our leaders are aware of the ongoing war with Iran, and are waging it. We have recently bombed Iranian military targets in Syria — clearly an act of war.
The strategic issue is how to win the war, and the best strategy is, as it was in the Cold War, to support the nonviolent overthrow of the enemy regime. There is abundant proof that the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people detest the regime, as well they should. By any standard, the regime has wrecked the country. The currency drops by the day. The country will soon face a water crisis of unprecedented magnitude. Unsurprisingly, there are ongoing protests all over the country and among all classes of people.
Wrecking Iran wasn’t easy. It’s a big country with a fairly young, albeit aging, population. Its location is geopolitically enviable, its educational system is one of the best in the area, and it benefits from a reputation that is as overblown as it is commonplace. Listen to Obama in 2014:
[T]here’s incredible talent and resources and sophistication inside of Iran, and it would be a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules, and that would be good for everybody.
Iran has a long history, with moments of great achievement, but its current leaders have not enhanced its glory. Quite the contrary; Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his henchmen have ruined the place. The destruction of the country’s ecosystem brings to mind a similar ruin inflicted on the Soviet Union by its Communist rulers. If Iran were truly what Obama believed, then all that incredible talent and resources and sophistication would have enabled the Islamic Republic a great success story, instead of a basket case.
The country’s aggressive foreign policy isn’t a great success, either, unless you think that Syria is a great success. Finally, Israel’s ability to humiliate Iranian security by making off with tens of thousands of sensitive documents about the covert nuclear program gives the lie to claims about Iran’s brilliance and cleverness. Most Iranians don’t think their oppressors are very clever, which is why they are demanding the regime stop its foreign adventures and do something to help Iranians in Iran.
This offers America a seemingly tailor-made opportunity for regime change in Tehran: support the dissidents, as we did in the Soviet Union.
It should be a lot easier than it was in Moscow, and it does not require the use of military force, except in exceptional cases, some of which (as in Syria) we have seen. Above all, we need to talk to the Iranian people, via radio and television. Our broadcasting operations badly need retooling, and we need to find ways to meet directly with dissident leaders. In all likelihood, Iranians are unaware of the dimensions of the ongoing revolt against the regime. We need to tell them about it, and ask them what they need from us. During the Cold War, Soviet dissidents needed fax machines, which we provided. There are no doubt modern communications technologies that could play a similar role.
We must also support the dissidents against the brutal repression they endure. American diplomats should provide their interlocutors with lists of political prisoners, demanding that we all insist upon their release. This applies with special force to imprisoned Iranian women, who are treated with anachronistic contempt.
Support for regime change is imperative whether the president declares an end to the Deal or continues to try to improve it. If you want an end to the Iranian nuclear program, this regime must end.
Ironically, that would greatly advance Obama’s dream of a grand Washington-Tehran alliance. How paradoxical would that be? Trump fulfilling Obama’s vision.