Can Iran be free? Or would that entail the U.S. waging another endless, pre-emptive war that Americans simply will not accept in the long term?
Of the world’s two most frightening – and most unpredictable – rogue terrorist powers, North Korea and Iran, it had long been thought the one whose ruling elite were in possession of less rationality was Pyongyang. But after meeting with President Trump twice, North Korean absolute ruler Kim Jong-un is acting largely according to the sane-but-evil geopolitical logic his power-hungry 20th century totalitarian antecedents practiced.
Tehran, on the other hand, now seems obsessed with seeking a conflict with the United States that would only mean disaster for its 40-year-old Islamic Revolution. Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei declares Trump unworthy of any direct negotiation and the world’s major U.S. adversaries are enjoying the punches they see Uncle Sam receiving.
China and Russia were both acting like Iranian allies as they conducted high-level deliberations with Tehran in the aftermath of attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week that were almost certainly conducted by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Chinese Communist ruler Xi Jinping met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in formerly Soviet Kyrgyzstan at the Shanghai Pact summit of Eurasian powers on Friday, and he chose not to hide Beijing’s crass global ambitions when, according to Beijing’s state-run press organ, he said, “China has always viewed its relations with Iran from a strategic and long-term perspective.”
Also meeting with Russian ruler Vladimir Putin at the summit, Rouhani said, without mentioning the U.S., that “the situation that is currently unfolding in the region dictates the need for closer cooperation between our countries.”
The Axis of Evil is alive and well, if some of its member states aren’t the same.
Khamenei and Rouhani might be banking on Trump’s stated preference not to get the U.S. re-entangled in the Middle East, or they might simply be willing to go to war. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif calls the intensified sanctions against Iran “economic war by America” and warns “Those who wage such wars cannot expect to remain safe.” Disturbingly, Tehran’s thinking is wrapped up in apocalyptic anticipation of the supernatural return of the 12th iman, who will lead Islam in a holy war against Israel, America, and the infidel world.
Beijing and Moscow are in sync with Tehran in actively opposing the U.S. role in the Middle East as the world’s lone superpower, a role that includes being the ultimate guarantor of the free flow of seaborne oil and natural gas through the Strait of Hormuz. Some 30% of the world’s oil supply, much of it destined for Asia, uses the route, originating from Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Iran itself.
Tehran’s military ability to disrupt and even close off that massive, indispensable flow of energy resources makes it a continuous threat to the industrialized world, and there seems little hope the danger will go away without a new government in Iran. Pretending otherwise is tantamount to the pre-Reagan/Thatcher stance of containment of the Soviet Union rather than victory in the Cold War.
President Reagan found a way to defeat Russia’s Communist “Evil Empire,” as he pegged it, without war. Might Trump be able to pull off the same trick with Islamofascist Iran?
A Nuclear-Armed Ayatollah
The Pentagon has ordered another 1,000 troops to the Mideast after already relocating the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the region, plus bombers and a missile defense battery. Hawkish Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday “nobody’s talking about an Iraq War, but we are talking about a military response on the the table that would cripple” Iran’s ability to disrupt oil transport, as well as destroy its ability to refine oil.
Such action would obviously be no permanent solution to the ongoing menace of the world’s foremost terrorist state, which finances and directs Hezbollah in Lebanon, Palestinian Hamas, and the Houthis’ proxy war in Yemen against Iran’s regional rival, U.S. ally Saudi Arabia.
With Tehran intent on next month formally violating the lopsided nuclear weapons agreement it negotiated with the Obama administration and other major powers, living with this revolutionary Islamic republic as it goes nuclear is impossible.
The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency is indicating that Iran has already breached the Obama deal with sophisticated centrifuges to enrich uranium beyond agreed limits. The nuclear watchdog agency reported that “up to 33 IR-6 centrifuges have been installed,” which enrich 10 times faster than the IR-1s already in use in Iran.
White House National Security Adviser John Bolton recently told the Washington Free Beacon’s Bill Gertz, “It’s not just the more sophisticated centrifuges but the pace of production, the pace of enrichment has picked up, and so it threatens the various limits in the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] that the Iranians have said they’ll violate, they’ll exceed beginning July the 8.”
Does the permanent elimination of this menace necessitate another Iraq, another open-ended conflict seemingly lacking an endgame strategy? The neoconservative approach only begins with war; years of nation-building must follow in hopes of establishing the foundation for a lasting representative government. As the thinking goes, the free world has no moral license to topple tyrannies otherwise, a notion Trump has probably never supported.
The realities are that democracy is not an organism that thrives well in alien soil, and the American people will not sacrifice their sons and daughters for the cause of Arabs or Persians being introduced to ballot boxes.
Moreover, neocons themselves are opposing war with Iran and Bolton’s counsel – perhaps because they believe Trump will not fight such a conflict their way, being more interested in decisive military victory followed by a soon-as-possible pullout than the nation-building enterprise. It would also be an unbearable embarrassment for neocons if Trump’s handling of hostilities with Iran bettered the often rudderless-seeming Iraq and Afghanistan experiences.
Some don’t see how Trump engineering regime change in Iran would be different. Suzanne Maloney, the liberal Brookings Institution’s foremost Iran scholar, suggested this week that Bolton’s influence has Trump betraying his own promises, arguing: “The administration’s bellicose, go-for-broke tactics for dealing with Iran are fundamentally at odds with the president’s insistence on extricating the United States from costly and protracted military conflicts.”
“If the Tehran regime is so fragile and the Iranian people are so alienated,” Pat Buchanan this week asks, countering arguments that Iran would quickly fold under U.S. attack, “why not avoid a war and wait for the regime’s collapse?” One might ask him how well it worked waiting for Castro’s alienated Cubans to upend his regime, even over a quarter century after the demise of its Soviet sponsor.
Iranians As Their Own Liberators
But more than military attack, liberating Iran might take the U.S. deploying weapons of moral support.
Iran’s population of nearly 83 million, about 70% of whom are under 30, is likely the most pro-Western of all Islamic nationalities. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq the since-banned Iranian newspaper Yas-e Now (New Jasmine) found 45% of Iranians favoring “change in the political system, even with foreign intervention.”
Iran’s vast, vibrant community of dissidents includes clerics, labor leaders, professors and their students. Unlike their American counterparts, when they take to the streets they take their lives in their hands. This Friday in Washington, thousands of Iranian Americans will rally in Washington and urge the U.S. government to help freedom fighters within Iran. The rally will be led by groups such as the Organization of Iranian-American Communities (OIAC) and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
“During the Cold War, the fax machine was a revolutionary instrument,” Foundation for the Defense of Democracies scholar Michael Ledeen has pointed out. In the 21st century, “satellite phones, laptops, servers, phone cards, software to beat the regime’s ‘filtering’ of the Internet” could all be provided to Iranian dissidents by the U.S. government, paired with explicit endorsement of regime change.
Ledeen has always been viewed as a neocon, but in contrast to others he has been consistent for 40 years about toppling the mullahs as effectively as it can be done, no matter who gets the credit.
“If your mission is to bring down the Tehran tyranny (as it should be), you’re going to have to help make it happen,” Ledeen wrote last month.
Henry Kissinger is the last figure in American statecraft who can be accused of eschewing the negotiation table; conservatives savaged him for the Paris Accords with the Communist North Vietnamese during his time as President Nixon’s secretary of state. But Kissinger warned in his 2014 book “World Order,” in the midst of his successor John Kerry’s nuclear talks with Iran, that “revolutionary Islamism has not, up to now, manifested itself as a quest for international cooperation as the West understands the term; nor is the Iranian clerical regime best interpreted as an aggrieved postcolonial independence movement waiting hopefully for demonstrations of American goodwill. Under the ayatollahs’ concept of policy, the dispute with the West is not a matter of specific technical concessions or negotiating formulas but a contest over the nature of world order.”
The Khamenei regime, in fact, claims authority over all Muslims and considers other forms of government illegitimate and a variety of war against Allah. To allow such an entity to arm itself with the most destructive weapons fashioned by man is unthinkable. The most sensible alternative is to side publicly with the Iranian people, giving them material support in their struggle to end their four decades of national nightmare. After helping engineer enough decay from within, military action from the U.S. and our allies can succeed without the specter of Iraq or Vietnam re-emerging.
Issues & Insights is a new site formed by the seasoned journalists behind the legendary IBD Editorials page. We’re just getting started, and we’ll be adding new features as time permits. We’re doing this on a voluntary basis because we believe the nation needs the kind of cogent, rational, data-driven, fact-based commentary that we can provide.
Be sure to tell all your friends! And if you’d like to make a contribution to support our effort, feel free to click the Tip Jar over on the right.