Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Charlie Rose last night that “it’s just a matter of time” before the revolts that toppled Mubarak and shook Basher al-Assad spread to Iran:
Panetta, a former CIA director who took over the Pentagon’s top job in July, was asked on the Charlie Rose television show whether the Arab Spring might spread to non-Arab Iran. Panetta responded: “Absolutely.”
“I think we saw in evidence of that in the last election in Iran that there was a movement within Iran that raised those very same concerns that we’re seeing elsewhere,” Panetta said.
“And I think in many ways, it’s a matter of time before that kind of change and reform and revolution occurs in Iran as well.”
I hope that means that the US is throwing all the covert resources imaginable into efforts to bring down the Iranian regime. But there’s something dreadfully wrong with Panetta’s statement: the uprisings all occurred in non-oil-producing Arab countries where soaring food prices demonstrated the inability of these dictatorships to meet the basic needs of their people. The Tunisians and Egyptians didn’t wake up one morning with a sudden urge for parliamentary democracy. The so-called Arab Spring reflects not just regime failure, but societal failure.
None of the oil-producers had internal protests they couldn’t buy off (as the Algerians showed at the outset of the “Spring”). Iran’s economy is in shambles and its social fabric is in advanced decay, but the regime still controls enough petrodollars to pay off its Revolutionary Guard thugs. And Iran is keeping the Assad regime in power while it continues to butcher protesters. If the mullahs can keep Assad in power, they might be able to keep themselves in power, too, long enough to deliver a nuclear weapon.
Panetta’s bland assurance amounts to a declaration that the Iranian problem will take care of itself. Meanwhile evidence continues to pile up that Iran is determined to acquire nuclear weapons as fast as it can.
The way to ensure regime change in Iran is to attack the regime, as I argued in this space last month. Nothing loses like losing. Hitler’s generals were ready to ditch him in 1938 until Neville Chamberlain handed him Czechoslovakia on a silver platter. Humiliate the regime, and its internal opponents will take it down. Reinforce the regime de facto by letting it get away with murder, and the prospects of an uprising from below diminish drastically.
The most important thing to understand about Iran is that the country is dying. After three thousand years, the Persian nation can see its demise just a generation or two down the road. It has passed the point of no return. Today’s Iranians were raised in families of six or seven children, but have on average 1.5 children of their own. No country–and in particular no poor country–can survive an inversion of the population pyramid. The industrial nations are buckling under the costs of aging. Iran will disintegrate.
That is why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been screaming for years that national doom is in sight. He’s not stupid, just crazy. He’s the geopolitical equivalent of a fellow with an inoperable brain tumor who robs a banks and takes hostages. This is man who knows he has nothing to lose. You can’t “engage” him. He has no rational self-interest, for he won’t be part of any rational outcome. You have to neutralize him.