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The U.S. Should Not Be in the Business of Regime Change
The U.S. needs to interfere far less in the affairs of other nations and should stop looking for new excuses to meddle.
Eric Edelman and Ray Takeyh want the U.S. to “help” Iranian protesters:
They want regime change. The United States should help from afar by increasing sanctions and improving communication among the demonstrators.
If most Iranians want to change their political system, that is their right and the U.S. should not hinder them, but the U.S. should not be in the business of regime change. It is not our government’s role or responsibility to do this, and it is doubtful that our government’s interference would be welcome or constructive in any case. U.S. involvement is unlikely to be helpful in a country where our government is widely and understandably loathed because of its past outrages and its current policies. At best, it would play into the hands of hardliners that seek to discredit protesters in the eyes of the population, and it could encourage false hope that the U.S. intends to intervene directly on their behalf when that is extremely unlikely to happen.
It is debatable whether the current protests have the potential to bring down the current system. We have heard this claim several times before and it has been wrong in the past, but it is possible that something is different this time. One thing that I do know is that the U.S. should not “assist, hasten, and perhaps even guide the revolutionary process,” as the authors urge Biden to do. The U.S. needs to interfere far less in the affairs of other nations and should stop looking for new excuses to meddle.
Edelman and Takeyh call for the U.S. to end negotiations on reviving the nuclear deal. This is not hard for them to do, since they have never supported the deal and have never wanted it restored. They say this “would rob the regime of its ability to generate hope among the population that sanctions might be lifted under its rule,” but it would also signal once again to the people of Iran that the U.S. cannot be trusted to honor its commitments. Nuclear negotiations in the past have been practically the only productive and successful negotiations involving the U.S. and Iran in four decades, so it seems particularly blinkered to shut them down as part of a cockamamie regime change policy.
The U.S. just spent almost four years openly seeking regime change in Venezuela through a combination of broad sanctions and support for the opposition. That effort has succeeded only in undermining the opposition and tightening the government’s grip. Why would we expect anything different here?
Regime changers are quick to call for destabilizing and toppling other governments, but they are never very interested in thinking through the possible negative consequences that might follow if they succeed or if they make the attempt and it blows up in their face. They hype the alleged benefits that regime change can bring, but never think about the costs. Regime changers never worry about what comes next because they are only interested in destroying, and they will leave the clean-up to others.
Suppose that attempted regime change turns Iran into another, much larger Syria and creates a prolonged conflict that destabilizes the region for the next decade. No doubt there are many Iran hawks that delight at this possibility, but this would be a catastrophe for the Iranian people and the region, and it would likely create numerous problems for the U.S. that we have not begun to consider. Maybe Iran doesn’t become another Syria, but the involvement of foreign powers in supporting the protesters causes a nationalist backlash and allows the current government to entrench itself in power more firmly. Perhaps U.S. interference makes enough of a difference to make the government feel threatened, but not enough to topple them, and in response they choose to develop nuclear weapons as an insurance policy. There are many ways that interference could end up making things worse than they are for both the Iranian people and the U.S.