A decisive and unwavering approach by the government of the United States towards the Islamic Republic of Iran does not mean favoring the hawks over the doves in the State Department and the Pentagon, but a refusal to remain as sitting ducks to the cumulative threat of international terrorism.
To protect the lives of its citizens and the civilized world, the United States must do its level best to bring about a regime change in Iran without delay or the conditions conducive for such a transformation will not be aligned in their present favorable way for many years to come. The regime is at the nadir of its popularity, gasping for political air. To give it a chance to revive is to let slip a considerable service to the cause of peace and freedom throughout the world.
Furthermore, any comprehensive program to foster and promote democracy in both Iraq and Afghanistan will not bear fruit unless it extends into neighboring Iran. The contagion of extremism and dictatorship spreading from across the border poses a formidable threat to the delicate and fragile burgeoning of democratic institutions in those countries.
Accordingly, the incentives for exerting relentless pressure on the clerical government cannot be emphasized enough. The appalling record of the Islamic state qualifies it as the single, most dangerous threat to world peace and global security. From the bloody marine barracks of Beirut, to the wreckage of Flight 103 exploding over Lockerbie, and from the terrorist bombing in Riyadh, to the almost daily acts of violence in the streets of Israel, all the criminal evidence can be traced to the material and ideological sponsorship of the mullahs in Tehran.
Nevertheless, the clerical government goes on acting with impunity thanks to its extreme dodging skills and its talents for always appearing to be on the verge of rehabilitation. This presents a murky picture that can befuddle even a politician of the caliber of Robin Cook, former British Foreign Secretary. His naive optimism for democratic evolution in Iran is representative of a kind of international vacillation that has helped to keep a deadly dictatorship in power for almost a quarter of a century. Disdainful of Donald Rumsfeld for 'talking as if Iran is a single unified entity' and trying to make a case for a deep division and a power struggle between the forces of good and evil within the Islamic Republic he writes:
"On the one side are President Mohammed Khatami and the majority of the Parliament, who are reformers, reflecting the political reality that most Iranians consistently vote to join the modern world. On the other hand are the conservative forces of the old Islamic revolutionaries led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who still retains control over the security apparatus” (IHT, April 6, 2003).
This is an astonishingly jejune interpretation of the dynamics of the political situation in Iran. The yarn of the deep dichotomy within the system is nothing more than a 'jange zargari' Persian slang for a sham quarrel, meant to distract and confound bystanders. It has been cleverly spawned and embroidered in order to keep international judgment in abeyance long enough to provide the valuable time needed for the implementation of a project that the Islamic Republic believes would help to place it beyond reproach and make it invincible i.e. the acquirement of nuclear capability. With the help of Chinese and Russian technology, Iran has been edging closer and closer to that goal. A report released by Reuters on June 6, 2003 ahead of a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors finds Iran in clear violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty:
"Iran has failed to meet its obligations under its safeguards agreement with respect to the reporting of nuclear material, the subsequent processing and use of that material and the declaration of facilities where that material was stored and processed,"
If acquiring weapons of mass destruction can mean approximating to the modern world, then Robin Cook is dead right. For if not stopped, the Islamic Republic will in a very short time be able to acquire a nuclear bomb. Given the symbiotic relationship between the government in Tehran and Islamic terrorist groups, it is not hard to imagine what such a capability might have in store for the world. What would a regime whose ideology is centered around death and martyrdom understand of the notion of a nuclear deterrent?
What the promoters of appeasement fail to realize, is that in spite of their cosmetic differences, the authorities of the Islamic state are unanimous in their support for extremist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. Moreover, the difference between Khatami's reformers and the so-called hardliners is not over their final aims and their divergent interpretation of the Islamic faith. It is rather over the form and style of dishing out the same content.
Supporters of President Khatami, campaigning for his election used to paste pictures of Khomeini, Khamenei and Khatami together, and hail the trio as the true descendents of the prophet Mohammad and the great custodians of the Shia faith. The juxtaposition of these three men has significance far beyond the immediate aims of a presidential campaign. All three of these black turbaned clergies stand for the same agenda, slightly modified in each case to suit the expedient of the moment. At the heart of this agenda is the enmity with the 'Great Satan' and 'the liberation of Jerusalem'.
For the government of the United States to try to search for a diplomatic way to persuade the clerical regime to abandon its sponsorship of global violence is nothing more than setting out after a wild goose chase. It amounts to waging a battle against clear thinking and common sense. It means burying one's head in the sand and implicitly surrendering to the enemies of peace, tolerance and civilization.
Although it is relatively easy to understand what one should not do i.e. to succumb to any temptation in any shape and form to strike a bargain with the mullahs, to be able to decide on a positive course of action and find a way of dislodging the tyrants from power is not quite so straightforward.
The Pentagon has been weighing different options in recent months. These options can be described at this stage as brainstorming rather than any definite blueprint for a regime change. Let us for a moment speculate on the military action. To attack Iran would pose difficulties for President Bush in rallying the international support he needs for such an undertaking. His critics are haranguing him at the moment about not being able to produce sufficient proof of the existence of WMD in Iraq.
Iran is a different kettle of fish. Condoleezza Rice, briefing reporters on June 4, regarding the military action against the Islamic Republic said, "Every situation requires a response that is tailored to that set of circumstances". This statement however does not rule out the possibility of military action. It only suggests that Iran will be dealt with on an individual basis. After the quick fall of Baghdad that took the shrewdest of the mullahs by surprise, an all out war with Iran is really not necessary. The clerical dictatorship knowing full well that it is hated by the population has lost its spine. It will swiftly collapse with even a limited military strike against country's nuclear sites or key military installations. Although the Islamic Republic fought a bloody eight-year war with Iraq, the mullahs secretly admired Saddam for outdoing them in cruelty and ferocity. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani the powerful ex-president and the head of the Expediency Council, just a few weeks before the fall of Saddam Hussein predicted that the United States had got itself involved in a long drawn out war in Iraq. After the shock of seeing their indomitable enemy turning tail and hiding from American soldiers, the ayatollahs have lost their nerve.
The fearsome image of the clerical dictatorship needs to be shattered and then the nation will gain the necessary confidence to overthrow the government without any further help. The people power in Iran needs only a small inducement to take off and the country's army not only will not fight the population, but also will join their movement for freedom and democracy. In case of opting for a military solution the United States should choose its targets very carefully and only apply enough pressure to release the bottled up desire of the population for emancipation. It should realize that it is interfering on behalf of the Iranian people who in the word of President Bush if they embrace freedom and tolerance, they "will have no better friend than the United States of America".
Strengthening the movement, which advocates the holding of a free and democratic referendum in Iran, will be a great step in launching a successful challenge against the mullahs. To unify and organize a viable and inclusive political force outside the country that can be offered as a microcosm of the political health and vitality of a future democracy in Iran can also have a tremendous effect inside the country.
The Constitutionalist Party of Iran, which is the brainchild of Dariush Homayoun, a prestigious Minister of Information in the Shah time, has a large membership all over the world and offers a truly democratic alternative. Such movements should be helped by initiatives such as the one taken by Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas who has introduced a bill in Congress asking for the allocation of 50 million dollars to fund the Iranian opposition groups. This proposal, which is called ‘Iran Democracy Act’, is significant for it demonstrates that the United States has a real commitment for putting an end to the clerical dictatorship.
Iranians will see this financial support as an investment for democracy. It will help to boost their morale and insure their struggle with the backing of a powerful friend. The friendship of the United States is truly reciprocated by the majority of Iranians who have a great deal of affection for the country which after all has played a crucial role in the development of their homeland and its transformation into a modern state.
Reza Bayegan is a commentator on Iranian politics who was born in Iran and currently works for the British Council in Paris. He contributes weekly columns to the Iran va Jahan Website and is a regular guest on exile Iranian radio shows.