It has become painfully clear that former US president Obama’s desire to make the Islamic Republic of Iran a “very successful regional power” has come to fruition. Iran is on the verge of creating its longsought Shi’ite Islamist land corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean.
Unfortunately, Obama’s goal to develop “an equilibrium...between Sunni states and Iran in which there’s competition... but not an active or proxy warfare” has utterly failed. Just look at Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
This is an important moment to reassess American foreign policy in the region, as we mark the second anniversary of the still unsigned Iran agreement (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA).
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has persuaded President Donald Trump to again recertify Iran, fearing that pursuing full compliance would endanger his fragile cease-fire in Syria and his working relationship with Russia and its Iranian ally. Appeasement is rarely a successful strategy in this part of the world.
Iran has violated both in spirit and the law the JCPOA and UN Security Council resolutions by exceeding heavy water limits, testing intercontinental ballistic missiles, and refusing to grant full access to international inspectors.
As German Intelligence recently reported, Iran has continued to seek “products and scientific know-how for developing weapons of mass destruction as well missile technology.”
The JCPOA was a transactional set of understandings that was sold to the American people as strictly about nuclear weapons, after it became clear that none of the moderation promised by the deals supporters had materialized. The Iran agreement was supposed to be vigorously enforced, while not inhibiting consequences for violations of UN Security Council resolutions, human rights abuses, terrorism, or destabilization and threats against its neighbors.
Yet Iran’s supreme leader’s rhetoric and actions against American interests have only increased and worsened since July 2015. Iran is now planning a naval port on the Mediterranean, is entrenched in Syria, and is more hostile than ever to America and its allies.
American foreign policy advisers should be asking:
• Would American national security interests be better served by a change in the Iranian government?
• Can America openly desire a peaceful regime change, while not being accused of wanting to start a new war?
• Wouldn’t the Iran agreement more likely be adhered to, if the regime in Iran were not the Islamic Republic of Iran?
In 1983, then-president Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” In 1987, in the name of freedom and American interests, he unapologetically called for regime change in the brutal authoritarian communist expanse by famously declaring, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Yet, like the JCPOA, he continued to seek transactional agreements with that evil empire. There is little doubt that what Reagan wanted to achieve was a regime change in the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism, yet no bullet was ever fired.
Could the same approach work with the Islamist theocracy, if the Iranian people were given moral encouragement to take charge of their own destiny? Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran, like the former Soviet Union, poses one of the most consequential threats to American security interests in the 21st century.
Its aspirations are megalomaniacal, and it is on the threshold of irrevocably changing the character of the Middle East against American interests.
As Saeed Ghasseminejad and Emanuele Ottolenghi wrote in The Huffington Post last year on the first anniversary of the JCPOA: “In the administration’s telling, the agreement would help loosen hard-liner’s grip on power in favor of more moderate forces...
the sad truth is unavoidable: the very opposite has occurred.”
Iranian ascendancy was validated and supported by Obama’s Iran agreement, which purposely ignored its hegemonic ambitions to reach a legacy agreement that almost certainly guarantees Iran an industrial-size nuclear program with full international approval in just 10-15 years.
When a pro-peace, pro-Israel progressive organization on the second anniversary of the JCPOA claimed that the agreement had “utterly defanged” Iran, it strained credulity.
It is troubling to see so many progressive groups act as Iranian advocates while Iran still remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, routinely imprisons and tortures its opponents, treats women as second class citizens, and is openly antagonistic to LGBTQ.
The JCPOA has betrayed the people of Iran. Ironically, Iran’s citizens would be among the most Western- oriented people in the Muslim Middle East, if only they could unshackle themselves from their repressive Islamist leadership. This would give them the opportunity to vote in a truly representative election, not one controlled by the Guardian Council, which disallowed 99% of presidential candidates in the last election and does not allow a women to be elected president.
As Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations said, the “Islamic republic... features a constant struggle between an authoritarian regime and restive population seeking democratic empowerment.... one thing certain about Iran’s future is that another protest movement will rise at some point seeking to displace the regime.”
Nothing could have been so contradictory to American values than the Obama administration’s abandonment of the Iranian people in 2009 during their Green Revolution, when Iranians by the millions rose to challenge their repressive Islamist government.
In 2015, when Iran was on the threshold of collapse from congressional sanctions with an economy in free-fall, Obama rescued the supreme leader and the fortunes of the Revolutionary Guard with front-loaded sanctions relief, undermining the Iranian people’s chances for more freedom.
So is it wise for an American administration two years into the JCPOA to publicly state that it is in the interests of the Iranian people and American security, to view with favor an eventual change in the leadership of the Islamist Republic, one that is representative of its people while not endangering its neighbors? With the blood of so many Americans directly staining the hands of Iran, ranging from its 1983 orchestrated bombing that murdered 241 American servicemen in Beirut to the untold number of American servicemen maimed and killed by Iranian supplied IED’s in Iraq, America does not have to be apologetic to state the obvious – that Iran is a menace to the world and its people.
It’s time to be there for the Iranian people if they again rise up against the fascists who now control their country. This does not mean military intervention, but it does mean that, at least rhetorically, America would welcome new leadership in Iran. Maybe that is all the Iranian people need to hear.
Unlike all of the Arab peoples who rose up during the failed Arab Spring, the Iranian people is Western oriented and is more likely to democratize in a non-Islamist fashion. But they won’t be free until the regime is gone, and it won’t be gone without a revolution of its indigenous Persian people. They will fail again if America abandons them.
The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East and is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.