I wrote a piece for the Federalist arguing that both regime change and a military option should be back on the table regarding Iran’s nuclear program. These steps are necessary both to give a greater chance of success for the soft power negotiations, but also in recognition of the fact we must stop Iran from possessing nuclear weapons, period.
What Trump should do
The first is the return of regime change as official U.S. policy. President Trump has stated repeatedly that the oppressive theocracy does not treat its people well, and it would be helpful as leverage to announce that we would not be displeased by a change in government. Actual regime change would be one of the more effective ways to end the nuclear ambitions of the Iranian state. There is no guarantee any successor government would forego the program, but it could be a condition of U.S. recognition that they do so.
The Kurdish independence referendum on September 25 was overwhelmingly in favor of self-determination. This has repercussions for Iran, which has a large and restive Kurdish population and many Azeris and others, around 30 percent of its population, who are not fans of the mullahs. A little U.S. support for them could go a long way toward keeping the Iranian government mindful of its internal issues. It could also make them more amenable to negotiation or potentially lead to their removal by their own people.
The other component of a strategy for success is the certainty for all involved that failure of the soft-power options will lead to a military strike. Without the credible threat of an iron fist in the velvet glove of diplomacy, we will never get the Iranians’ full attention. This must be on the table although some of the Iranian program is below-ground and essentially unreachable. We can still destroy much of it and most of their other military capabilities. That will serve as a powerful motivator to act in good faith for once.
The best possible outcome is a peaceful negotiated settlement that verifiably ends Iran’s nuclear program. The best chance of achieving that is for them to know we will support the removal of their government, and if forced, the destruction of their destructive capabilities.