You can see the headlines already. On New Year’s Day 2018, Iranian citizens protested for their rights. On New Year’s Day 2019, Iran installed its first democratically elected government, committed to human rights, egalitarianism, and liberal governance.
It’s a wonderful dream. And it is indeed within the realm of possibility.
Sadly, it's nowhere near the realm of becoming likely. It’s the sort of dream seducing Americans across the political divide. Many Republicans succumbed to it when they believed, along with President George W. Bush, that deploying the American military to topple Saddam Hussein would bring liberal democracy to Iraq. Or that elections in Gaza might yield a leadership other than a terror gang.
Many Democrats succumbed to it when they believed, along with President Barack Obama, that the social media Arab Spring protests would spread liberal democracy throughout the Arab world.
Both outcomes were possible in theory. Neither were remotely likely. Yet both visions clouded American policymakers in ways that made tense situations worse. Both visions led to more pain and more suffering among Arabs — with even greater cost and anguish to Americans.
Those experiences have apparently led many Americans to develop an aversion to regime change — particularly when it comes to Iran. Some, continue to cheer President Obama’s gambit to legitimate and fund the Iranian nuclear and missile programs. They operate with beautifully circular logic.
Having claimed that we had to deal with the mullahs because they were not going anywhere, they now contend that the mullahs should not go anywhere because we have dealt with them.
Others argue more simply that the mullahcracy has been around for decades. It's subject to international agreements, and maintains important economic ties. It may be an adversary, but it’s a known adversary. Why risk making things worse by egging on the protesters and calling for regime change?
This latter argument is badly misapplied in the case of Iran. Our experiences under Presidents Bush and Obama should have taught us that unrealistic dreams of liberal governance inevitably turn into nightmares — not that hostile, odious regimes should continue in place. Furthermore, things couldn’t really be much worse; almost any conceivable change in Iranian regime would be for the better.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a revolutionary state with an apocalyptic messianic vision. It is supremacist in the extreme. It deploys a full range of terrorist organizations to export its revolution.
Through Hezbollah, it is a key player in the international drug trade and organized crime. Its leaders preach destruction and genocide. It respects no human rights; jails, tortures, and executes dissidents; and opposes American diplomatic and military interests at every opportunity.
Of the world’s nearly 200 countries, which is a greater threat to American interests than the Islamic Republic of Iran? China and Russia are great-power rivals. Many of their interests run counter to our own, but there is considerable overlap. Neither is eager to plunge the world into global conflict — or to overturn the basics of global economics, commerce, or finance.
North Korea is a dangerous, heavily armed hermit kingdom. It poses a dire threat to our friends in Japan and South Korea. But its range of capabilities remains limited. China keeps it at least partially leashed. And its primary conduit to the world’s other bad actors is none other than Iran.
Somalia, Libya, Venezuela, and far too many other countries are failed states. Life is terrible for their citizens, and they provide breeding grounds for terror. But their threats to us are indirect and manageable.
Through considerable dedicated effort, Iran has achieved a rarified status. The mullahcracy has produced a regime so antithetical to American interests and values that it could hardly be worse. The Iranians have known it for decades — hence their constant chants of "Death to America," which they see as the great Satan. It’s time for Americans to join them in that realism.
Fortunately, President Trump’s new National Security Strategy seems to set exactly the right tone — for the very first time. It puts America first with "a strategy of principled realism that is guided by outcomes, not ideology." That perspective makes clear that regime change in Iran is a positive outcome—even if the new regime is authoritarian and anti-American.
An Iranian regime focused on consolidating its power within Iran is far preferable to an Iranian regime exporting terror and revolution.
An Iranian regime eager to buy the complacency of its citizens is far preferable to an Iranian regime eager to buy nuclear and missile technology.
An Iranian regime concentrating on the problems of Iran’s citizens is far preferable to an Iranian regime seeking to agitate among Shiites throughout the Islamic world.
President Trump’s security strategy expresses "the view that peace, security, and prosperity depend on strong, sovereign nations that respect their citizens at home and cooperate to advance peace abroad."
We would love to see an Iran that harkens back to the nationalist, pre-revolutionary days of the pro-Western Shah — with an enhanced appreciation for civil liberties. There is no evidence that such an eventuality is imminent, and it is unrealistic to expect Iran to get there in one fell swoop.
Nonetheless, regime change remains solidly in America’s interest. Given that Iran’s current regime exhibits none of those properties, even baby steps forward along a single dimension would be an improvement.
Bruce Abramson is the President of Informationism, Inc., Vice President and Director of Policy at the Iron Dome Alliance, and a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research. Jeff Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic, a Senior Fellow at the American Conservative Union's Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy, and an advisor to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. To read more of their reports — Click Here Now.
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