- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The time is ripe for President Obama to focus not only on our economy and health care and the antics of North Korea, but also on how to address the growing challenges from Iran.

This summer’s rigged Iranian presidential election has not only exposed the illegitimacy of the theocracy but also has given a new sense of power and hope to the Iranian people. As the leader of the Free World, Mr. Obama must decide: How does the United States support the legitimate quest for freedom by the Iranian people?

Compounding the problem is the fact that Iran has declared war on the U.S. numerous times and continues to fund, train and equip the insurgency in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan, which has cost thousands of our military lives.

The message from the conference of the Group of Eight — the world’s leading industrial countries — late last month denouncing Iran for the recent crackdown on election protesters and expressing growing impatience with its nuclear program will have little impact on the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his hard-line clerics. With Russia and China refusing to implement more stringent sanctions while at the same time continuing to expand their commercial and military ties with Iran, along with certain “allies” — e.g., Germany, Japan, et al. —a new approach is warranted.

It is clear that the Ayatollah Khamenei and his clerics cannot afford to have a relationship with the United States except on their terms. As such, Mr. Obama’s pre-election rhetoric is obsolete. If Mr. Obama is to keep faith with our military — which is heavily engaged in fighting two wars in which Iran is supporting the opposition — then sitting down with the illegitimate President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with no preconditions must be taken off the table. To meet with him that way would only give legitimacy to this rogue regime and undercut the election protesters. Further, the rejection of the Obama administration’s May letter by the Ayatollah Khamenei should bring everyone back to reality.

Aside from growing popular discontent with the hard-line clerics and Mr. Ahmadinejad, Iran has other critical vulnerabilities. The brutal crackdown of the incipient uprising by the election protesters has exposed the mullahcracy to be a traditional dictatorship dressed up in clerical robes and a blackturban. The crackdown has shattered the aura that Iran controlled events in the Middle East.

Furthermore, a split in the Shi’ite clerical hierarchy has been exposed by the harsh suppressions inflicted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Basijmilitia.The Iraq-based Ayatollah Ali Sistani is the most revered Shi’ite spiritual leader and has long been an opponent of the mullah theocracy, but he has had to move carefully. He receives funding for his many charities from his offices in Iran. Other Iranian vulnerabilities include a weak banking sector; dependence on the euro and dollar; high inflation and unemployment; and inadequate petroleum-refining capability, which requires Iran to import 40 percent of its refined products (gasoline). Specific measures that should be taken include:

c Develop an alternative funding source from Saudi Arabia similar to what the Saudis did in Lebanon for Ayatollah Sistani for his many charities with the stipulation that such funding would permit the ayatollah to speak out forcefully about the illegitimacy of the mullah theocracy, which could be seen as providing a leadership voice the election protesters desperately need.

c Through various communication channels (Radio Free Europe, Voice of America), encourage work slowdowns/stoppages, particularly by the oil-field workers, plus other measures to interrupt the flow of oil.

c Urge Japan to hold off on opening any new banks and to forgo future direct investments until further notice. Japan and Iran’s joint Chamber of Commerce recently concluded a meeting in Tokyo at which Japan agreed to open new banks in Iran.

c Implore countries of Southeast Asia to hold off on any joint ventures with Iran to increase its refining capacity. Iran’s refining capacity is unable to keep pace with domestic demand. Iran has been in joint discussions with China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to expand its refining capacity.

c Have the French and German governments direct the divesting of their large holdings in the Iranian national bank, Bank Melli Iran. This bank cashed in its dollar assets in 2007 for euros. Iranian strategy depends on the euro.

c Ban Iranian commercial airlines from entering into the European Union for failure to meet international safety standards.

c Continue to refine the military option in coordination with Israel to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure if other measures fail.

Robin Wright in her July article “Tipping Point in Tehran” in The Washington Post described the three political elements now at work in revolutionary Iran that may drive it (and the mullahcracy) toward the tipping point, namely: leadership, unity and momentum.

I think the same three political elements should be applied to the United States with a new Iran policy to counter the dangerous trends that continue within revolutionary Iran.

Specifically, we need to lead the global effort, with our allies, to deny the revolutionary mullahcratic regime nuclear weapons, build unity on that position and create new momentum starting in Europe and Japan to communicate that signal. This could bring other necessary changes, too.

Retired Navy Adm. James Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations and deputy chief of naval operations, in which position he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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