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Does the Trump Administration Support Regime Change in Iran?

Mike Pompeo at state department press briefing

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo piously intones the diplomats’ mantra: We don’t want regime change in Iran, we want changed behavior.

Except that you can’t change the behavior of a totalitarian enemy without bringing down the regime itself, as we learned, or should have learned, in the Cold War. Totalitarians can’t reform, whether they are Communists, fascists or radical Muslims. Either you’ve got it or you don’t.

We already had this discussion, with regard to Communism. Many talked about “communism with a human face,” but it never happened. Gorbachev, who is often wrongly credited with transforming the Soviet Union, tried to save Communism, failed, and fell.

Pompeo surely knows this, and I suspect he is playing with language by saying he doesn’t advocate regime change, while actually doing just that. If you go through his list of desired changes to regime behavior, it extends from an end to support for terrorism, through nuclear weapons programs, to the repression of the Iranian people. His words, broadcast to Iran in Farsi by Radio Farda, clearly show the United States sides with the protesters, and intends to support them:

On the subject of human rights, Pompeo said the U.S. can "certainly provide moral support" to Iranians risking their lives by participating in anti-regime protests…

"It's not about changing the regime. It's about changing the behavior of the leadership in Iran to comport with what the Iranian people really want them to do."

The U.S. will work with Iranian opposition groups, the secretary noted, "so long as they're working toward the same thing -- we don't want them advocating for regime change, either."

"We want them working on behalf of the Iranian people, …who want nothing more than to live their lives, to be able to take their hijab off, to be able to go to work and raise their families and worship in the way they want to worship," he said.

Despite repeatedly gainsaying support for regime change, the secretary of state is in fact calling for an end to the Islamic Republic. The theocratic regime cannot tolerate freedom of religion, or the abolition of the oppressive dress codes for women, without abandoning its claim to be divinely sanctioned. The Iranian people know this, which is why all the mounting protests, nominally aimed at specific regime malefactions, invariably turn into broad political demands for an end to the regime. Demonstrators from students to truck and taxi drivers demand a government free of mullahs.

Secretary Pompeo’s language is elegant and explicit. When he says that we will support the Iranian people’s desire to “live their lives” freely, he is telling them and their oppressive ayatollahs that the United States supports revolution in Iran. He should be applauded. You don’t need to use the taboo words “regime change” to support the anti-regime protests that now cover the whole country. Just do it.