The Obama Administration Moves toward Regime Change in Its Iran Policy

In one of our posts surrounding our January 6, 2010 Op Ed in The New York Times, we noted that “analytic views of Iranian politics since the June 12 presidential election have important implications for the debate about U.S. and Western policy toward Tehran.”  In particular, buying into the proposition that the Islamic Republic is imploding has the effect of driving the policy argument toward support for “regime change” in Tehran.  This was confirmed two days ago (on January 9) in a news story, “U.S. Shifts Iran Focus to Support Opposition,” published by Jay Solomon in The Wall Street Journal.

No fewer than six senior Obama Administration officials backgrounded Jay for the story; highlights include

The Obama administration is increasingly questioning the long-term stability of Tehran’s government and moving to find ways to support Iran’s opposition “Green Movement,” said senior U.S. officials.  The White House is crafting new financial sanctions specifically designed to punish the Iranian entities and individuals most directly involved in the crackdown on Iran’s dissident forces, said the U.S. officials. . . .

In recent weeks, senior Green Movement figures — who have been speaking at major Washington think tanks — have made up a list of IRGC[Revolutionary Guard]-related companies they suggest targeting, which has been forwarded to the Obama administration by third parties. . . .

American diplomats, meanwhile, have begun drawing comparisons in public between Iran’s current political turmoil and the events that led up to the 1979 overthrow of Shah Reza Pahlavi.  “In my opinion there are many similarities,” the State Department’s chief Iran specialist, John Limbert, told Iran-based listeners this week over U.S. government-run Radio Farda.

Joe Lieberman and Ahmad ChalabiJay goes on to note that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is exploring whether the United States could strike a deal on the nuclear issue “without crippling prospects for the Green Movement.”  He also quotes a “senior U.S. official” as saying that “the Green Movement has demonstrated more staying power than perhaps some have anticipated.  The regime is internally losing its legitimacy which is of its own doing.”  For what it’s worth, Senator Joseph Lieberman (pictured above with the self-styled leader of a democratic Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi, when Lieberman was vigorously supporting regime change in Iraq) said yesterday from Jerusalem that we are seeing “the beginning of the end of the repressive, extremist regime in Tehran” and that Washington should support opposition protesters in Iran.

As a responsible journalist, Jay dutifully notes that the senior officials he interviewed stressed that President Obama “isn’t moving toward seeking a regime change as its policy for Iran.”  But, whether President Obama and his advisers want to call their policy “regime change,” that is precisely the direction in which they are moving.  Their efforts, in this regard, will not only fail to produce regime change in Tehran — they will further undermine the already tattered credibility of American diplomatic representations toward the Islamic Republic.

Flynt Leverett directs the Iran Project at the New America Foundation, where he is also a Senior Research Fellow.  Additionally, he teaches at Pennsylvania State University’s School of International Affairs.  Hillary Mann Leverett is CEO of Strategic Energy and Global Analysis (STRATEGA), a political risk consultancy.  In September 2010, she will also take up an appointment as Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.  This article was first published in The Race for Iran on 10 January 2010 under a Creative Commons license.

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