A counterrevolution in Iran may be the last, best chance for peace in the region, but it can only happen with American help.
J. Michael Waller of the Institute of World Politics argues that the best way for the United States to promote change in Iran is not via sanctions or military action but by helping the Iranian people overthrow the Islamic regime. After the proper preparation, "revolution could happen in a matter of days," he said at a briefing yesterday at the institute's Washington headquarters.
Iran is poised for radical change. The ruling mullahs are widely viewed as illegitimate and corrupt. The people are disaffected and increasingly willing to stand up to the government. The student movement has shown a degree of fearlessness in confronting the regime. And, perhaps sensing change in the air, the Revolutionary Guard Corps has begun to show cracks in its once-fierce loyalty to the Islamic state.
Mr. Waller says he thinks the United States could facilitate an uprising in Tehran with comparatively little effort. Washington could help the opposition communicate with inexpensive prepaid cell phones and proxy Internet servers and supply Flip video cameras and other means of recording and publicizing the course of the rebellion. Voice of America's Persian News Network could focus reports on regime misdeeds and spread inspirational accounts of insiders turning against the power structure in hopes that others might join them. Tehran's state-controlled media regularly ignore such stories, so VOA would report, and the Iranian people would decide.
Most important, the United States could supply strong moral support. A critical factor keeping Iranians from making a decisive move against the theocracy's religious leadership is a sense of doubt that America would back their play. A clear signal to Iranian dissidents that Washington would support a revolt would go a long way toward making it happen.
Mr. Waller contends, however, that the U.S. government is stymied by "a lack of imagination." The checkered history of American-backed coups, such as the one that brought the shah of Iran to power in 1953, have placed any discussion of destabilization off limits. But the type of political warfare Mr. Waller recommends is akin to what American politicians do on a routine basis. "Would [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton dig up dirt on a political opponent to destroy them?" Mr. Waller asked rhetorically. "Well, if so, she could also do it to the Supreme Leader of Iran."
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is very sensitive to charges of corruption, yet he reportedly is worth $30 billion, a handsome sum for a humble cleric that must have been amassed through illicit means. The Supreme Leader also reportedly suffers from crippling bouts of depression that could be exploited to paralyze his ability to make decisions during a crisis. "Mrs. Clinton should [apply] the government-wrecking talents she picked up during the Watergate hearings to the Iran issue," Mr. Waller quipped.
Helping overthrow the Islamic regime in Tehran would significantly advance U.S. interests in the Middle East. Iran is actively promoting violence in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority. Iran supplies anti-American insurgents with arms, materiel and intelligence support. The Islamic republic is directly and indirectly responsible for more American military deaths than any country since the Vietnam War and has yet to be called to accounts for it. The price of a destabilization operation is minuscule compared to the costs of American vehicles destroyed by Iranian improvised explosive devices and the rehabilitation of warriors wounded in those attacks. Unlike the sanctions President Obama is pursuing, this plan will get results.