President Trump’s new Iran Strategy was a tremendous shift in the right direction, away from the delusion that the Iranian regime is a partner for peace toward the reality that it is a malign influence and actor. It is vital to note this applies to the regime not the Iranian people. He described it thusly in his speech, first the oppressors.
Iran is under the control of a fanatical regime that seized power in 1979 and forced a proud people to submit to its extremist rule. This radical regime has raided the wealth of one of the world’s oldest and most vibrant nations, and spread death, destruction, and chaos all around the globe.
Then the Iranian people.
In this effort, we stand in total solidarity with the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people. The citizens of Iran have paid a heavy price for the violence and extremism of their leaders. The Iranian people long to — and they just are longing, to reclaim their country’s proud history, its culture, its civilization, its cooperation with its neighbors.
That is a distinction we must continue to make as the people of Iran can be an ally against the worst impulses and actions of the authoritarian theocracy that currently cause all of us so much trouble. In 2009, the people of Iran made the bold move of refusing to accept another faux election designed to put in place a puppet of the Mullahs. They staged a Green Revolution (picture above) and looked to the world to support them. Sadly the leader of the free world, Barack Obama, was deeply invested in making a deal with the regime and ignored them while the thugs of the Basij beat, tortured and shot them down.
Now those same Basij thugs and the rest of the violent arm of the regime, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), have been designated a terror group. This should send a message to all the people of Iran that the United States stands with them, not their oppressors.
To that end the United States should make some public changes to our policy regarding the regime that will help in negotiations attempting to curb their numerous bad actions. But also in recognition that those things may never happen and Iran and the world may be better off without an apocalyptic theocracy in charge.
Security Studies Group has written an evaluation of the options available and recommended those we think should become part of official US policy. We have provided the full analysis to the Administration, below is the Executive Summary.
Iran: Placing all options on the table
The Islamic Republic of Iran remains an expansionist power threatening to its neighbors and undeterred from plans for the development of nuclear weapons. The JCPOA has done little to change either of those issues. The most charitable assessment of the agreement is that it delays Iran’s path to nuclear weapons; the most realistic assessment is that any slowing in some areas merely masks the other advances the deal allows Iran to make.
Multiple US presidents have concluded, correctly, that such weapons in the hands of the Iranian regime is an unacceptable danger to the United States and our allies. By presenting the use of hard power against Iran as unthinkable and forswearing its use, the Obama administration removed vital leverage to accomplish what it had claimed was its highest priority. These will also help stop the terror support and power projection of the regime in the region and around the world.
US policy toward Iran currently does not publicly articulate two components vital to success: that regime change should be official policy; and that military action should be anticipated if other measures fail. In addition, the United States must act based on three realities to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power:
- US policy toward Iran must prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons;
- Any such policy requires a credible hard-power threat, both to reinforce soft-power negotiations, and as a last resort in case those fail;
- A credible hard power option exists. That option does not consist of large invasion forces or long, costly occupations.
The following two measures should be part of discussions with Iran, allies, Congress and the American public regarding the nuclear threat and Iran’s malign activities.
Regime Change — Iranian regime oppression of its ethnic and religious minorities has created the conditions for an effective campaign designed to splinter the Iranian state into component parts. More than one third of Iran’s population is minority groups, many of whom already seek independence. US support for these independence movements, both overt and covert, could force the regime to focus attention on them and limit its ability to conduct other malign activities. America’s strategic communications, including its public diplomacy, has long referred to this oppression as a means of delegitimizing the Iranian state, but has thus far not undertaken to organize a concerted effort to encourage the development of populist movements within Iran, for the purpose of fatally weakening the Iranian regime. Even the indication that the United States would support such movements would be a powerful lever against the Iranian regime. If that was not enough, aggressively supporting such movements could potentially destroy the regime from within without resorting to kinetic measures.
Military Action — The probability the current Iranian theocracy will stop its nuclear program willingly or even under significant pressure is low. Absent regime change, a choice will likely present itself between accepting a nuclear-armed Iran or acting to destroy as much of this capability as possible. The credible presentation of a threat to do this greatly increases the chances other means of negotiation will be successful. Whether the Trump administration attempts to renegotiate the JCPOA, add sanctions, or simply walk away from the deal, additional leverage against Iran will be needed. This provides it and if all other means fail, recognizes it may become necessary to take kinetic action.
Communications —Any public discussion of these options, and any messaging about the Iranian regime in general, should make a bright line distinction between the theocratic regime along with its organs of oppression and the general populace. We must constantly reinforce our support for removing the iron sandal from their necks to allow them the freedom they deserve.