Regime change in Iran


An Op-Ed piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal uses the A-word to describe President Bush’s shifting stance on Iran. In the piece, titled “Now Bush is Appeasing Iran,” the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin argues that the White House is propping up a failed administration (in Tehran, not Washington), by sending Undersecretary of State William Burns to talks with Iran’s nuclear negotiator about incentives for Tehran.

While Rubin focuses on how the Bush administration in effect is rewarding Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bad behavior – “Diplomacy is not wrong, but President Bush’s reversal is diplomatic malpractice on a Carter-esque level that is breathing new life into a failing regime,” Rubin writes – the piece also sheds light on how the regime in Tehran is struggling: It’s late on payment of salaries to government workers, it’s unable to step up oil production and it has been forced to impose rolling blackouts to deal with an energy crisis. Meanwhile, the Iranian people are growing increasingly restive.

If anything, the Bush administration should be contributing to the weakening of Ahmadinejad’s regime, not buttressing it against collapse, Rubin writes:

As Ahmadinejad begins his re-election campaign, he can say he has successfully brought Washington to its knees through blunt defiance, murder of U.S. troops in Iraq, and Holocaust denial. Should he win re-election in 2009, he will have Mr. Bush’s whiplash diplomacy to thank for his greatest – and, given the state of his economy, perhaps only – victory.

Last week, John Bolton argued on the same page that it’s too late for sanctions to work. The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, now also at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote:

We have almost certainly lost the race between giving “strong incentives” for Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and its scientific and technological efforts to do just that. Swift, sweeping, effectively enforced sanctions might have made a difference five years ago. No longer. Existing sanctions have doubtless caused some pain, but Iran’s real economic woes stem from nearly 30 years of mismanagement by the Islamic Revolution.

More sanctions today (even assuming, heroically, support from Russia and China) will simply be too little, too late. While regime change in Tehran would be the preferable solution, there is almost no possibility of dislodging the mullahs in time. Had we done more in the past five years to support the discontented – the young, the non-Persian minorities and the economically disaffected – things might be different. Regime change, however, cannot be turned on and off like a light switch, although the difficulty of effecting it is no excuse not to do more now.

The real question at this late stage, says Bolton, is: “What will the U.S. do if Israel decides to initiate military action?”

Instead of debating how much longer to continue five years of failed diplomacy, we should be intensively considering what cooperation the U.S. will extend to Israel before, during and after a strike on Iran. We will be blamed for the strike anyway, and certainly feel whatever negative consequences result, so there is compelling logic to make it as successful as possible. At a minimum, we should place no obstacles in Israel’s path, and facilitate its efforts where we can.

Meanwhile, the polling organization Rasmussen Reports released a new survey showing that 42 percent of Americans say that if Israel launches an attack against Iran, the United States should help Israel, while 46 percent say the United States should do nothing.

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