What Will Promote “Regime Collapse”?

I wish I could say I agreed with Michael Makovsky and Jonathan Ruhe’s Washington Post op-ed about Iran but I can’t. I agree with them that Iran’s mullahocracy is reprehensible. And I agree with this:

To truly loosen the regime’s grip on power and on the region, the United States must explicitly make regime collapse its policy. We don’t mean “regime change” through a U.S. ground invasion, such as Iraq in 2003, but the imposition of consistent, comprehensive pressure, beyond economic sanctions, to exacerbate Iran’s internal tensions so that the regime is ultimately undone from within.

but I disagree with just about everything else. For example:

After the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, and especially after the 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), Iran became confident that the United States had neither the means nor the will to challenge it for control of the Middle East.

I am agnostic as to whether Iran wants to “control the Middle East” but I certainly don’t want to do so and I don’t believe that most Americans want to control it, either. The emphasis of U. S. policy should be to mitigate the risks of a perennially out-of-control Middle East. Or this:

This requires confronting and raising the costs of Iran’s imperial project, not just those actions that threaten only American lives and assets. The United States must keep up the attacks against Iranian assets in the region and join Israel in rolling back Iranian aggression.

U. S. policy is rightly directed towards defending American lives and assets not controlling the Middle East. And there are multiple risks in “confronting” Iran, especially for an America that is tired of war. Among these are inspiring Iranians who otherwise might be predisposed in our favor to “rally ’round” the mullahocracy through patriotism. And our too cozy a relationship with Israel is actually an impediment to Iranian regime collapse rather than an asset. Israel is if anything less popular within Iran than the mullahs.

In my view we should maintain our sanctions regime against Iran, encourage our allies to do the same, and do what we can to insert wedges between Iran and its proxies or allies. And whatever became of soft power? I strongly suspect more young Iranians aspire to the things we want than to those the mullahs want. We should promote that. Less of the apocalyptic talk would probably be helpful as well. Otherwise strategic patience is probably our best posture. The mullahs will undermine themselves more effectively than we ever can.

18 comments… add one
  • Grey Shambler Link

    “collapse” might be a bad thing. What I would hope for is that the Mullahs would cede political power to an elected government while maintaining moral authority without maintaining militias. I’d like to see them slowly back into their version of the Vatican. But in Islam, I don’t know what that would look like.

  • Name one example of that since 1900. That’s not the way things work.

    The role of clerics in Shi’a Islam (the sort in Iran and most of Iraq) is quite different from that in Sunni Islam (most of the rest of the world). Khomeinism, the foundation of Iran’s present regime, is a form of Shi’a Islam in which the role of clerics is even more pronounced. In essence they don’t believe in secular government at all. Shorter: don’t expect the mullahs to go quietly into that good night.

  • steve Link

    “After the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, and especially after the 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), Iran became confident that the United States had neither the means nor the will to challenge it for control of the Middle East.”

    Yup, if we just try a little harder and a little longer we can turn the ME into Arizona. Besides, no one who actually lives in the ME will have noticed that we have invaded or bombed and still have troops in a lot of the countries over there. (Missed everything yesterday since someone has to keep health care costs increasing.)


  • I think we stand a much better chance of turning Arizona into the Middle East.

  • bob sykes Link

    The mass outpouring of grief for Soleimani should put to rest any delusions that there is widespread opposition to the Iranian regime. There is a small minority of secular urban Iranians who want change, but the ayatollahs have support among the believers.

    The same situation exists in Turkey. Erdogan has the support of the believers.

  • Greyshambler Link

    I suppose I got my naïveté reading posts from the small group of urban Iranian expats on Quora. Actually the Internet was shut down in Iran last week and news is heavily censored so they probably believe that the Great Satan was dealt a heavy blow.
    But then again, no secular government?
    What do Mullahs know about water systems or electricity generation or road maintenance? There must be levels of authority out of necessity.

  • 75% of Iran’s population is urban. Most of the mullahs’ support is from rural people and the urban poor. That reflects a dichotomy that has existed within Islam for at least a millennium. Note that the support for fundamentalist Islam (its Sunni incarnation is Salafism), generally, is among rural people and the urban poor.

  • steve Link
  • Greyshambler Link

    This author has no moral compass.

  • steve Link

    West Point grad career officer whose son died in Iraq. Had a career as an historian after leaving the military. One of a relatively small group of serious writers on military and IR issues whose preferred course doesn’t generally devolve into preferring the use of military force. By report, his Catholic faith leads him to believe that we should value human life, even those of soldiers.

    “Bacevich is critical of U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War era, maintaining the United States has developed an over-reliance on military power, in contrast to diplomacy, to achieve its foreign policy aims. He also asserts that policymakers in particular, and the U.S. people in general, overestimate the usefulness of military force in foreign affairs. Bacevich believes romanticized images of war in popular culture (especially films) interact with the lack of actual military service among most of the U.S. population to produce in the U.S. people a highly unrealistic, even dangerous notion of what combat and military service are really like.

    Bacevich conceived The New American Militarism as “a corrective to what has become the conventional critique of U.S. policies since 9/11 but [also] as a challenge to the orthodox historical context employed to justify those policies.”

    Finally, he attempts to place current policies in historical context, as part of a U.S. tradition going back to the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, a tradition (of an interventionist, militarized foreign policy) which has strong bi-partisan roots. To lay an intellectual foundation for this argument, he cites two influential historians from the 20th century: Charles A. Beard and William Appleman Williams.

    Ultimately, Bacevich eschews the partisanship of current debate about U.S. foreign policy as short-sighted and ahistorical. Instead of blaming only one president (or his advisors) for contemporary policies, Bacevich sees both Republicans and Democrats as sharing responsibility for policies which may not be in the nation’s best interest.”


  • jan Link

    I wonder how the democrats and their media acolytes tongue lashing of Trump is playing in Iran. Does it help the US for people to bemoan Soleimani’s death, berating the president for what others see as a defensive action? Or, does it dilute their respect and/or their fear of repercussions for any ongoing bad behavior? Consequently, what does this negative, divisive rhetoric accomplish – diminish or embolden Iran to forge ahead in hopes of realizing their “death to America” chants?

    For some reason we no longer have unity of purpose, even when Our military is able to rid the planet of a monstrous villain.

  • steve Link

    “even when Our military is able to rid the planet of a monstrous villain.”

    Why dont we kill Xi Ping? He is a much more monstrous villain with thousands of Uighurs in camps and hundreds killed. How about Kim Jong-un? Definite monster. Why dont we kill the whole Saudi royal family? That is the country that keeps sending terrorists to the US to kill us? Heck, why dont we kill George Bush? He sent us into Iraq for no good reason and got thousands of our people killed and probably hundreds of thousands of Iraqis? Talk about monstrous.

    In general, we look for an upside to our actions. What do we gain? What are the downsides? How do they weigh against each other. In this case all we get is emotional justifications and no reasoning for killing. Note that to date there have been multiple explanations for the killing, but no evidence.


  • jan Link

    Steve, I think better of you than what you cynically splashed out on the above post. There is absolutely no thread of reality binding the military reasons for taking out a vicious terrorist versus a president of a super power country.

    As for sharing details of the operation, we didn’t immediately know all the behind the scenes details of the OBL raid, and other killer drone strikes, all similarly done without Congressional authorization. We also weren’t privy to secret agreements made, promised protections excluded, when pushing the JCPOA through, along with the questionable waivers and banking transactions associated with the Iran pay-offs. What about John Kerry’s Logan Act violations in counseling Iranian leaders behind the current POTUS’s back? How would Obama backers have reacted had a Bush official attempted a similar maneuver to blindside Obama’s foreign policy?

  • steve Link

    “vicious terrorist ”

    You do realize that when a conservative uses the word terrorist it is meaningless?


  • jan Link

    Steve, why?

  • steve Link

    Because you call everyone you dont like a terrorist when you want to kill them. You guys called the Iraqis we were fighting with terrorists when a lot of them were just fighting back against being invaded. You call other people terrorists when they engage in the same behaviors that we engage in. The Afghans fighting against Russia were freedom fighters. When we used proxies in the Cold War against the USSR it was black ops. When other countries use proxies, they are terrorists. You call people terrorists without much evidence or it is done for political purposes. So Saudi Arabia which is where most of the people coming to the US to kill us (clearly terrorists)originate is not called a terrorist state. Iran, which does not send people to the US is called a terrorist state, mostly because of the killings which have persisted in the low level Cold War we have may maintained since 1953.

    So it is a word you use for convenience, not with any real meaning.


  • steve Link

    This might help too. Written by a rabbit Clintion/Obama hater, strong Trump supporter at Lang’s site.



  • jan Link

    I have read pieces by Larry Johnson for years. Sometimes I’ve seen merit in his take on geopolitical events and other times not so much. The article posted here, to me, is slanted. For one thing Iran is known to hide it’s participation in events described as “terrorism.” It may supply funding, military equipment, encouragement while other groups leave the fingerprints and are held accountable for various acts of violence.

    For anyone, though, to accurately follow the crumbs of provocation back to the culprits initiating attacks, a roadside bomb, etc. has become increasingly difficult to do. Also, Tehran lies when charges are leveled at it for untoward events – the latest being the surface to air Ukrainian jet attack. When it comes even to their own internal dissent they shut off the internet, quietly execute leaders of dissent, bribe or threaten the populace to comply in certain ways.

    Furthermore, in the age of hatred for Trump. there is no such thing as giving this administration any “benefit of the doubt.” His intentions, policies, military strikes are considered acts of malfeasance, malevolent, out of bounds, lacking credibility immediately off the bat. It’s the reversal of what used to be a standard in arriving at the truth in this country, “innocent until proven guilty.” Now everything is viewed through the partisan democrat lens as bad, obscene, illegal until proven otherwise. And, even when transcripts are released, they are interpreted negatively. And, when trials are held they are highly orchestrated to fit the narrative sought, while testimonies not supporting such a narrative are heavily redacted or not released at all.

    Getting back to the predicate of our back and forth, though, is how meaningless it was to call Soleimani a “terrorist.” Considering Soleimani’s record of atrocities, both inside and outside of Iran, I think he comfortably fits the definition of terrorist, no matter how one wants to use the Larry Johnson opinion piece to inject otherwise.

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