Wednesday, January 7, 2004

In the wake of Iran’s deadly earthquake last week, diplomats and pundits alike began to speak of “Earthquake Diplomacy” — an effort to capitalize on the goodwill generated by U.S. efforts to alleviate Iranian suffering. But the nature of the Iranian regime makes these thoughts both dangerous and wrong-headed. A more reasonable policy would be one of regime change, as Iranian support of terror, its aggressive pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and its horrific human rights record make it a suitable candidate for our next campaign in the war on terror.

President Bush stated in his September 2002 national security Strategy that America’s war on terror is with those who conduct terrorist acts and with those who support terrorists. Iran, as many experts will tell you, does both.

The Islamic Republic funds and at times directs two of the most effective terror groups: Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. These two Shi’ite terror groups have a long history of military and economic linkages with Sunni terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, the Palestine Liberation Organization and others. By providing funding, communicationstrainingand direction to these organizations, Iran has long been seen as the center of gravity of the international terror network. Evidence suggests that Iran has gone so far as to use its diplomatic pouches and intelligence services to facilitate terrorist communiques and the transfer of lethal material.

Additionally, there is ample proof that Iran is supporting efforts to disrupt our progress in both Afghanistan and Iraq. From allowing al Qaeda and the Taliban safe refuge after their defeat in Afghanistan to sending foreign jihadists into Iraq to attack coalition troops, Iran has seemingly made it unofficial policy to see our stability and democratization efforts fail. Changing Iran’s regime would go a long way toward taking pressure off our troops and diplomats as they attempt to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq.

There is also credible information that Osama bin Laden has made Iran his new home and that the Iranian government has warmly received him. By welcoming al Qaeda infrastructure and senior leadership, one comes to the clear conclusion that Iran is not just supporting terror, but generating it as well.

But supporting terror is just one part of the equation. What makes Iranian ties to terror even more frightening is the fact that it is aggressively trying to obtain WMD. Most disturbing is Iran’s recent admission to the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency it has been secretly developing nuclear capabilities for more than 18 years — in direct violation of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran admitted, among other things, to having covert efforts to enrich and process uranium and plutonium, necessary events in the creation of nuclear weapons.

But never mind the covert program. It has also been reported in the past months that Iran’s supposedly legitimate efforts to obtain nuclear energy will soon result in a capacity to develop WMD. The concern is that Iran could enrich uranium for the purpose of power generation, while funneling excess enriched uranium to its weapons program.

At current rates of development, experts believe that Iran’s secret and overt efforts will likely result in it becoming a nuclear power between 2006 and 2010.

Lastly, Iran’s poor record on human rights alone makes it a strong candidate for regime change. The Iranian government has not only run its economy into the ground with its mismanagement and corruption, but it also jailed, tortured and murdered those secular and religious leaders who have called for economic and political freedom. Massive popular demonstrations in the past year have shown that the Iranian people are hungry for freedom, but their cries for democracy and citizenship have been beaten down by an oppressive regime bent on denying them the most basic human rights.

Considering Iran’s support for terror, its pursuit of WMD and its record of human rights abuses, the policy of the United States should be one of regime change — not by way of military invasion but by supporting internal change. The United States should increase the moral pressure against the Islamic Republic, clearly restating and condemning its evil nature. We should also offer support to opposition groups in terms of money, communications and training. We should also praise the opposition in both the international community and on U.S-sponsored Iranian radio broadcasts.Likethoseformerly oppressed in Poland, Serbia and Georgia, the people on the ground must know that America recognizes their plight and is ready to offer moral and financial support.

Iran is in desperate need of another revolution — this time a velvet one.

Roger D. Carstens is a member of the Council for Emerging National Security Affairs.

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