Amid the White House review of its Iran policy and subsequent to the signing into law of H.R. 6634, which imposes tough sanctions on the Iranian regime and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), familiar voices in Washington have begun fear mongering that supporting “regime change” leads to war.
Let us be clear: The real issue is not war. There has never been any suggestion of military intervention. Here are the real questions that need to be answered:
Should the Iranian people continue to suffer under a brutal dictatorship, which has denied them their most rudimentary rights, or do they have the right to change this suppressive regime?
Should the world remain silent on the destructive role of the Iranian regime in the region, including its direct participation in the carnage in Syria?
Far from being warmongers, advocates of regime change are calling for a transformation from within, led by indigenous forces, not through foreign military intervention.
The truth is that defenders of engaging with Tehran rely on false arguments. They assert that a policy that does not embrace rapprochement with Tehran will necessarily lead to war, period.
There are three obvious objections: First, why is the range of conceptual options so artificially restricted to war or appeasement? Are there no other plausible options?
Second, engaging with dictatorships does not necessarily avoid war. Conversely, refusing to engage or appease a dictatorship is not a harbinger to military intervention.
Third, consider the catastrophic results of appeasement so far: Emboldened by Washington’s conciliatory attitude, Tehran has fanned the flames of multiple regional conflicts. Nearly four decades of engagement with the mullahs has made the situation far worse.
What rational assurances do we have that continuing the same policy for another four decades will lead to different results?
Before the U.S. invaded Iraq, the regime promised Washington in secret negotiations in Geneva that it will not meddle in post-war Iraq if Iranian opposition — the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) who had taken refuge in Iraq — were bombed.
The U.S. held its end of the bargain while Tehran flooded its western neighbor with a sea of militias, cash and weapons, leading to a sectarian rift that ultimately produced ISIS.
The nuclear deal is another example: It was hoped that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) would lead to a different behavior from the mullahs in Iran. Far from it, Tehran has become even more repressive at home and belligerent abroad.
An underpinning premise held by the advocates of engagement is the assumed capability of the regime to reform by itself. The theocratic system in Iran, however, is not only unwilling to change, but by design, it is incapable of reforms.
Multiple presidents, including Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami and now Hassan Rouhani, who just began his second term, have surfaced throughout the regime’s history with the promise of “reform” as a bait to gain more concessions from Western interlocutors.
In his first four years as president, Rouhani executed more people in Iran than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did in his eight years in office and the Iranian regime’s involvement in Syria has dramatically increased.
Against this backdrop, the Iranian people have shown on many occasions that they want regime change. During the 2009 uprising, demonstrators chanted, “Down with the principle of velayat-e faqih” (absolute clerical rule), underscoring that they do not condone any of the factions within the regime, including the ones making empty promises of reforms.
The people of Iran are more than capable of changing the regime themselves, if only the West stops its policy of engaging their oppressors. They have an organized resistance movement with a rich history and an even more inspirational plan for the future of Iran, one that includes the separation of religion and state, gender equality and respect for human rights under international conventions.
Let’s wholeheartedly accept that a foreign military intervention is not the answer for Iran. It is the chants inside not the weapons outside that will make change happen.
It is time to make a fundamental distinction between “regime change by war” and “regime change by the people.”
Supporting the Iranian people in their legitimate quest to uproot a warmongering terrorist theocracy is the only option that averts another conflict in the Middle East. Ironically, the alternative, engagement, is a sure recipe for more conflicts and ultimately war.
Ali Safavi (@amsafavi) is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which is dedicated to the establishment of a democratic, secular and non-nuclear republic in Iran.