The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected this week to affirm that Iran has made substantial progress in their push to enrich uranium. The Bush Administration must now orchestrate a determined diplomatic end game, or the military option will soon be the only one left.
The time is growing short before Iran becomes Atomic Iran with the capability of developing nuclear weapons. According to the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s defense establishment’s assessment is that Iran could have the bomb by 2010. Richard Schulte, U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA, in a speech recorded by the World Security Network, agrees that Iran could have a nuclear weapon as soon as “early next decade.”
This, after more than two decades of Iranian refusing to comply with the IAEA and, as former UN Ambassador John Bolton has said many times, Iranian lies about their program, its direction and progress. Since the beginning of the Bush administration’s second term, the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has resisted all U.S. attempts to bring the Iranian uranium enrichment program to a halt.
We have negotiated through the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), applied pressure through the IAEA, and sought sanctions through UN Security Council resolutions. Yet, instead of containing Iran, the result has been to cause discussion of nuclear technology to spread across the Middle East. Now, the Gulf Cooperation Council has announced a meeting with the IAEA on May 21-22 in Saudi Arabia for the purpose of drafting a regional nuclear plan.
To succeed against Iran with a combination of diplomacy and sanctions, the Bush administration must take the additional step of declaring regime change to be the goal of U.S. policy with regard to Iran. With the intensity of diplomatic effort the Bush administration has hurled against Iran, making this policy change should be easy, but unfortunately it’s not.
The Bush State Department has consistently resisted making regime change the centerpiece of our Iran policy, in large part out of an inertia that resists reversing a Clintonite policy that declared unwillingness to meddle to in Iran’s internal affairs.
Clinton’s last Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, went so far as to apologize to Iran for the CIA’s involvement in the 1953 overthrow of Prime Minister Mosaddeq.
Should we allow ourselves to drift toward war with Iran simply because we were unwilling to make regime change in Iran our official policy? After all, if the Bush administration intends to honor its promise never to see an atomic Iran, what choice is there but regime change, either by peaceful means or by war?
We make a mistake to believe that the Ahmadinejad regime has firm control over a united country. The opposite is much closer to the truth.
Prior presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani remain positioned in the wings to offer themselves as pragmatic “reformist” candidates to Ahmadinejad’s extremism. In the last election cycle, Ahmadinejad’s supporters lost heavily in key local council elections throughout the country. On May 19, Ahmadinejad’s moderate rival Mohammad Baghar Qalibaf was re-elected Tehran’s mayor in a city council vote. Ahmadinejad himself sprang to power from his previous position as mayor of Tehran.
Ahmadinejad’s fundamental failure has been his failure to realize his campaign promise to “bring Iran’s oil money to every family’s dinner table.” Experienced Iran observer Amir Taheri reports that inflation in Iran is running around 18%, while unemployment has shot up to 30 percent. The average Iranian is much worse off today economically than before Ahmadinejad took control.
The Bush administration has many options to increase the pain of sanctions on Iran. An estimated $300 billion in Iranian capital has fled Iran since Ahmadinejad came to office, much of it going to Dubai where Iranians own an increasing percentage of the local businesses. We should use Bush administration ties to the UAE government to see if we can freeze Iranian assets held in Dubai. We should apply increased pressure on the many French and German companies who assist Iran with their nuclear program, as well as on the European banks that assist Iran with their international trade and oil transactions.
Even steps such as restricting Iranian sports teams from participating in world competitions or taking away western credit cards from the wealthy mullahs who like to travel to Europe and Dubai would have an impact. We could work with our allies to restrict Iranian landing privileges at international airports and we could intensify security monitoring at Iran’s UN mission in New York. All these steps would cause the Ahmadinejad trouble as the ruling mullahs find their first world privileges and economic security threatened.
In the final analysis, we should remember that South Africa was brought to abandon apartheid without a war. The former Soviet Union fell from a carefully orchestrated Reagan administration effort to spend the Soviet Union into bankruptcy over military hardware including Star Wars technology, while simultaneously working with the Saudis to lower the price of oil on world markets, thereby cutting Soviet revenue. Moreover, and certainly more importantly, America could help the Iranian people – with funds, supplies and especially communication equipment — form themselves into a force that could topple the mullahs, and Ahmadinejad, from power.
President Bush should also adopt Reagan’s ability to utilize moral persuasion to apply pressure in the court of world opinion. The Ahmadinejad regime has recently brutally put down student demonstrations in Tehran. Journalist Ken Timmerman reports that 23 persons were beaten to death last week in a security crackdown in a south Tehran neighborhood. Shocking photos of the fatal beatings were circulated on the web by the international press. President Bush could give a speech naming the Iranian heroes who are still imprisoned by the Ahmadinejad regime because they have dared to speak out against the regime, recalling themes he so eloquently expressed in his second inaugural address.
War against Iran is the least desirable option, especially when the Bush administration continues to be pressed by Democratic Party opponents to withdraw from Iraq. We have thousands of troops in compounds in Iraq and Afghanistan who could be killed by a conventional Shahab-3 missile attack Iran could launch in retaliation to an air attack on their military facilities.
The Iranians, who like to fancy themselves as the inventors of chess, are not expecting a U.S. end game gambit where the State Department unabashedly reverses direction to declare that our goal is to oust the Ahmadinejad regime. The move has the added advantage of showing that our determination to back Iran off nuclear enrichment has a viable strategy alternative other than to threaten to launch a second politically difficult pre-emptive strike in the Middle East.