The PJ Tatler

It's Time for Romney to Lead on Iran

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s despicable verbal assault on the U.S. and Israel at the United Nations this week is an occasion for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to praise the State Department’s September 21 decision to remove the terror tag placed on Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK). It’s also an opportunity for the candidate to identify regime change in Tehran as a top priority of his administration.

In June, I took to the pages of Haaretz to recommend that the then presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States embrace the Iranian opposition organization and support calls for democratic change in Iran.

I was promptly attacked by The American Conservative for offering “the worst campaign advice in history.” On September 21, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did what Daniel Larison said Romney “would be out of his mind” to do and removed the MEK from the terror list. Apparently even Barack Obama didn’t buy the argument made by Larison that the U.S. should capitulate to the Iranian regime to avoid the perception of hostility.

One wonders if the editors at The American Conservative have any additional bad advice for the Republican nominee. How does that saying go? “With friends like these…”

The failure to delist Iran’s primary expatriate dissident organization might have pleased the isolationists at The American Conservative but doing so would have triggered the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington to make good on their promise to correct the list by removing the group on October 1.

The removal of MEK from the terror roster was necessary to ensure U.S. security interests and to provide a check on the Islamic Republic’s violent rhetoric aimed at Israel. The removal was also a victory for those concerned with the rule of law and the protection of civil liberties.

With Mr. Obama’s foreign policy in free fall in the wake of what is widely regarded as an al Qaeda attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya and growing anti-American protests across the Muslim world, Romney would be wise to follow the charge of prominent conservative lawmakers and former administration officials and identify regime change in Iran as a goal of his presidency.

To date, Romney’s foreign policy has been hawkish but not always coherent and he will not win the presidency without convincing Americans that he has what it takes to manage the world’s most active state-sponsor of terrorism and the greatest threat to regional peace and security.

In less than a week, the nominees for each party will take the stage for the first in a series of debates that will touch on global security matters. Romney can demonstrate leadership by breaking with his predecessors and rejecting the false dichotomy of political engagement or military confrontation with Iran’s clerical rulers.

The goal of regime change in Tehran can be accomplished by backing Iran’s organized political opposition. Regime change from within poses the most significant challenge to the country’s autocratic rule.

The massive disinformation campaign against the group notwithstanding, no group poses a greater threat to the regime in terms of its ability to mobilize support in the expatriate community. Nor has any organization been more valuable in terms of providing intelligence related to Iran’s emerging nuclear program. Research undertaken on the group suggests their positions to be consistent with democratic principles and their removal from the list is the clearest indication to date that the failed policy of engagement with Tehran is over.

MEK’s delisting in the midst of a contested presidential election presents an unusual opportunity for the Republican candidate to offer a bipartisan commendation to the president for his decision to unchain the resistance. But, he must also demonstrate leadership by sharpening the distinction with the sitting president, embracing calls for democratic change, and articulating a bold new policy toward the regime in Iran.

With just weeks before Americans choose their next Commander-in-Chief, Romney can take advice from his paleoconservative friends at The American Conservative or he can signal that under his watch the U.S. will take an active role in shaping a more peaceful and stable Middle East.

If he chooses the former, Republicans will spend the next four years looking for someone who can do the latter.