A few years ago in Commentary, I argued the case for regime change in Iran. In the current issue of National Review, I reiterate the argument. Even military action—the last resort to deny Tehran a nuclear capability—would only delay the program. Unless policymakers on either side of the aisle come up with a strategy to take advantage of that delay, military strikes would only kick the can down the road. Certainly, Washington’s strategy should not be to bomb Iran every two or three years.
It’s time policymakers have a serious discussion about regime change. After all, the problem with the Islamic Republic is not simply its potential nuclear arsenal, but rather the ideology of the regime that would wield those weapons.
Many of the histories of Iran now used in universities and Middle East studies programs were penned, in their original editions, during or immediately after the revolution. Scholars like Nikki Keddie and Ervand Abrahamian wrote their narratives to depict the Islamic Revolution as the natural outgrowth of Iranian political evolution. Nothing could be further from the truth: The Islamic Republic is an anomaly, not the natural state of affairs. The regime has long since lost legitimacy among its people, who may not be revolutionary, but also do not believe that reform can any longer repair the system.
Some scholars argue that regime change is a pipe dream. Then again, some scholars suggested that the Soviet Union would be a permanent entity and planned accordingly. In hindsight, however, those who sought to avert Soviet collapse were short-sighted. Regime change in North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela would likewise be in the interests of the United States, so why not Iran?
While there isn’t any support for Iraq-style regime change in Washington–nor would such a strategy ever be wise with regard to Iran–there are any number of strategies which the United States might pursue to encourage regime collapse in Iran: Support for independent trade unions; policies to encourage factionalism within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; better use of Voice of America-Persian and Radio Farda, some of whose correspondents are unabashed in their sympathy toward the Islamic Republic; empowering Iranians to bypass firewalls and increase the cost to the regime of establishing them; sanctions targeting any member of the security services or regime; and democracy promotion.
Both Democrats and Republicans have given Iranian leaders more than three decades to come in from the cold, but rather than reform, the regime has only retrenched and become far more dangerous. It’s time to give up on dialogue with the regime, concentrate on direct diplomacy with the Iranian people, and support efforts to encourage them to stand up for their own rights and freedom. It’s time the State Department and White House recognize that there is nothing in statecraft to suggest that the perseverance or protection of ideological and rogue regimes is an American interest, and that not all regimes are worth treating with respect.