Strategists teach that a coherent strategy should always have diplomatic, informational, military, and economic components. When grouped together, each component can amplify the effectiveness of the others. The reason why American strategy across administrations is often so incoherent and ineffective is that Americans either handle these components separately, or they sequence strategies rather than take a broader approach.
Take Iran: The Obama administration initially sought diplomacy, and only after the Iranians spurned Obama’s outreach did his administration—prodded by Congress—impose sanctions. Many politicians say military strategies are a last resort, even though military strategies encompass not only bombing, but also containment and deterrence. Informational strategies are the most ignored. The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, coordinate no clear strategy. Voice of America’s Persian Service is as likely to castigate American policy as criticize the Iranian regime.
It’s time the United States engage in informational and ideological battle with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Even if White House or State Department doves seek diplomacy with Iran, there is no reason why the United States should not simultaneously seek to de-legitimize the Islamic Republic.
Nowhere does the United States have a greater opportunity to do so than with regard to Syria. Iranian leaders, like other authoritarians, often couch their actions in the rhetoric of social justice. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, for example, spoke about social justice—which he equated with the expansion of Islam—during his Friday prayer sermon on February 3. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini spoke often of social justice. What is occurring now in Syria, however, is the antithesis of justice, social or otherwise. Simply put, the Iranian regime is giving aid and comfort to a dictator who is killing unarmed civilians in cold blood.
Bahraini Shi’ites listen regularly to Iranian media because it covers their plight but, at the same time, castigate it for its bias on Syria, no matter that the victims in the Syrian crackdown are disproportionately Sunni. If Arab Shi’ites turn against Iran because of Syria, how might Iranians react if they knew the truth?
Indeed, one phenomenon that should worry everyone is the rise of Qassem Sulaymani, the head of Iran’s Qods Force. Usually, heads of shadowy terrorist networks like to live in the shadows yet, during the past few years, Sulaymani has built and carefully cultivated a personality cult which he might ultimately leverage in a run for the presidency. Sulaymani reportedly has been aiding if not coordinating repression in Syria, actions unpalatable even to Iranians, according to their comments beneath Iranian news articles. Yet, the United States remains largely silent on Sulaymani’s actions rather than shining a spotlight which depicts him as a murderous thug and not a war hero, as he likes to be described in Iran.
The United States should be relentless in highlighting Iranian abuses, hypocrisy, and the true character of the Iranian regime. It should do so on a daily basis not only in English, but also in Arabic, Urdu, Turkish, and last but not least, Persian. We should never cede any battlefield to Iran, not the Persian Gulf, not the oil industry, and not the informational battlefield.