Iran is our biggest enemy and has threatened us and our interests for almost four decades. But it is the one foreign policy engagement we have ignored. We have allowed the Iranian regime to humiliate us for years, killing hundreds of our soldiers from Lebanon to Iraq, culminating with the Obama-era disaster in which Iran captured our ship and its crew without retaliation. Now is the best opportunity since the 2009 Green Revolution to undermine and perhaps overthrow this regime without the painful and counterintuitive military investments we’ve squandered elsewhere.
For the past 15 years, we have expended trillions of dollars and lost thousands of lives fighting the wrong battles, refereeing Islamic civil wars that did not benefit our national interests. In some cases, such as our involvement in Iraq, we actually helped our mortal enemy, Iran. But by using effective tools of statecraft, we can help orchestrate regime change in the one place that actually needs it.
Over the sleepy New Year’s weekend, protests erupted throughout the Islamic Republic of Iran. While media apologists for the Obama administration are suggesting that the protests are focused on economic issues, they are clearly tied to opposition to the entire Islamic theocracy and the fact that funds are being squandered on creating a hegemonic caliphate instead of on domestic policy. Protesters are now openly attacking the core of the regime’s Islamic agenda, and according to Israeli intelligence, “the escalation of the protest’s messaging” is indicative of a certain breach of the Iranian citizens’ fear barrier,” whereby the citizens no longer fear the repressive tactics of the regime.
Unlike during the Green Revolution when Obama refused to side with the protesters, President Trump has used his combative megaphone to fervently back them. And according to a leaked regime memo obtained by and translated into English by Fox News, the Iranian leaders fear for their security to the point that they think this time is “different from previous occasions.” In addition, the fact that the protesters are coming from working-class neighborhoods, once considered the bedrock of regime support, demonstrates that the mullahs are in for the fight of their lives.
The good news here is that one cannot get a worse result than the current regime, and we don’t have to get our military involved to steer the ship if we play our cards right. President Trump should make it clear that we support regime change and that we will do everything to undermine the current regime.
Here are five immediate steps the administration should pursue to bring about regime change:
1) Call on Congress to reinstate all sanctions: Shouldn’t this be a bipartisan moment, for once? The president should call on Congress to immediately reinstate sanctions. That would be the nail in the coffin of the regime and further inflame the protests. Unfortunately, after initially decertifying the Iran deal on October 16, Trump declined to demand renewal of sanctions. Pursuant to the 2015 Iran deal law, Congress has a 60-day window from decertification in order to pass sanctions with a simple majority. The window has closed, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bob Corker has made it clear he has no interest in reimposing sanctions. The good news is that Trump has another window on January 12. Time to put the screws to Corker and give him the Twitter treatment if he fails to cooperate. Trump should also add defunding the Iran deal to his list of demands for the January 20 budget bill.
2) Prevent commercial planes from being transferred to regime: Airline lobbyists and Democrats mocked the president last month when he called for blocking the $40 billion deal from Boeing and Airbus to sell Iran 300 commercial airliners, including 737 MAX 8s, 777-300ERs and 777-9s. They said it is absurd to assume that Iran would use them for military transport. In December, the House passed a bill designed to scrutinize such sales. Only 30 Democrats supported it. However, the Senate has failed to act on the companion bill sponsored by Sens. Ted Cruz and David Perdue. With the Iranian regime potentially in trouble, the last thing we would want to do is supply it with commercial airliners to move around military assets.
3) Issue an ultimatum to Baghdad: We should be doing this anyway, but as a further means of isolating the Iranian regime and highlighting its international hegemony (which is unpopular with the protesters), Trump should demand that Baghdad’s government cease all ties to the IRGC or cease receiving aid from us.
4) Cut ties with the PLO: As another means of applying pressure on Iranian proxies and isolating the Iranian power structure, Trump should announce that he is permanently closing the PLO office in Washington, a move that is required anyway by current law. After the PLO’s display of bravado in leaving the country for a few weeks following Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, the Palestinian diplomats are clamoring to come back. Trump should bar their entry. Iran sought to interject itself into Trump’s diplomatic maneuvering with his recognition of Israel’s official capitol. This would send a strong message that anything with Iranian fingerprints is dead to America. Now would also be a good time to suspend all aid to Lebanon until that country washes its hands of Iranian control.
5) Cyber/media warfare: While the Iranian regime is trying to shut down internet access, Trump should have his administration take his Twitter message to all areas of the cyber-world and unblock access to social media platforms so they can broadcast messages of freedom into the country. They should continue informing the people of Iran of how their government is sending $800 million a year to Hezbollah and funding terrorism around the world rather than caring for its own people. Remember, in Iran there is an inherent, non-Arab, Persian nationalism that the Ayatollahs have been seeking to suppress for years in their pursuit of an Islamic theocracy. Unlike in other countries, there are the raw materials of non-Islamic governance to work with that can successfully fan the flames of regime change. Trump has many tools at his disposal to instigate an Iranian-style Brexit by harnessing this nationalist message.
In the meantime, the Trump administration should be developing a plan for “the day after” in the event that the regime reaches a tipping point. Eschewing the mistakes of the past, we shouldn’t try to promote democracy but should be working to identify a future leader who is committed to fighting Islamo-facism in the mold of Egypt’s el-Sisi. Egypt is perhaps the only successful model from the recent uprisings in the Middle East and provides a blueprint for how to turn over a regime without involving our military directly. If we could accomplish that in this case, we’d be capturing the biggest fish of all and avenging the blood of our people dating all the way back to 1979.
If the president makes the right choices and uses minimal investments to foster regime change in Iran, he will do more for our national security and world peace than his predecessors have done in the past 15 years.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.