Why Regime Change in Iran Wouldn’t Work

Washington Shouldn’t Give Up on Diplomacy

An Iranian soldier stands guard during a ceremony marking the 37th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, February 2016. Raheb Homavandi / REUTERS

As the Iranian nuclear agreement turns two years old this month, Iran hawks are once again advocating their preferred solution to the Iranian problem: regime change. Last month, Politico reported that shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative Washington think tank, had submitted a memo to the National Security Council arguing that “Iran is susceptible to a strategy of coerced democratization because it lacks popular support and relies on fear to sustain its power […] The very structure of the regime invites instability, crisis and possibly collapse.” As the Council on Foreign Relations’ Ray Takeyh put it in another example, “The task for the administration now is to study ways that we can take advantage of Iran’s looming crisis to potentially displace one of America’s most entrenched adversaries.” U.S. President Donald Trump and his team’s hostility toward the Islamic Republic has surely encouraged such hawks, with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently indicating that peaceful regime change is a policy option that his team may pursue. Regime change, however, simply isn’t feasible unless the United States is ready to commit, politically and militarily, to another Middle Eastern theater for an extended period of time. Trying to achieve a transition of power on the cheap, with limited political commitment and military presence, is conducive neither to realizing the goal of removing the Islamic Republic nor to developing a viable replacement government.

Ever since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Iran has posed a strategic challenge to the United States. To counter Tehran’s nefarious activities, ranging from its human rights violations to its nuclear program and support for terrorist groups, some pundits and scholars have pushed Washington to put more pressure on the regime. But too often, their recommendations come with fundamental flaws. For example, some have posited that air strikes could stop Iran’s nuclear activities. But they often fail to outline a realistic strategy these proposed

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