Had the opposition “green movement” been successful with its Feb. 11 attempt to flood the streets of Tehran with hundreds of thousands of protesters on the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, the illegitimate regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would have been dealt a severe blow.
However, this plan was crushed before it ever got started by the heavy security measures enforced by Mr. Ahmadinejad and the hard-line clerics. The Iranian theocracy has evolved into a classic dictatorship-police state. In so doing, it has revealed serious cracks in its so-called religious underpinnings as it continues its drive to achieve a nuclear-weapon capability.
The opposition is confused and disorganized, lacks leadership and needs support. The key question is what type of support could help revive the green movement. The Obama administration has provided little support to the opposition. Sen. John Kerry’s proposed trip to Iran on behalf of the Obama administration in December to negotiate an end to U.S. sanctions undercut the opposition. We were saved from this folly by Iran, which refused to grant Mr. Kerry a visa.
The administration is now lobbying for tougher economic sanctions. Will tougher sanctions make a difference with a fanatical religious regime? I doubt it. Particularly so now that the Obama administration is proposing to exempt certain countries – China and other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – from tougher sanctions being proposed by Congress on companies doing business in Iran. What nonsense.
The recent report by the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, raised serious concern over Iran’s actions to develop a nuclear warhead for its missiles. This report appears to have gotten some traction with the European Union countries, as they are now encouraging companies such as Italy’s ENI and Germany’s Siemens to sever their business relations with Iran.
Some experts support the thesis that it’s up to the Iranian people to force regime change. They are quick to point to successes in the past, such as Corazon Aquino’s “People Power” in the Philippines, which ousted the corrupt regime of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, or, more recently, the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine. So why couldn’t a combination of economic sanctions and people power work in Iran? In both of these other cases, we were dealing with regimes – no matter how corrupt – that had some form of a rational compass that doesn’t exist with the fanatical Ahmadinejad regime.
It is acknowledged that Iran is the world’s leader of state-sponsored terrorism. For this reason alone, it cannot be permitted to have a nuclear weapon. We need to provide a menu of options that can support the green movement as well as prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear-weapon capability. Such a menu should include:
c The Obama administration, instead of fulfilling its campaign rhetoric of negotiating with a rogue regime, should sponsor a broad democratic conference to encourage Iranian exiles to identify leaders and develop principles for a future democratic, secular government.
c Even though they have not been effective, leave current economic sanctions in place along with new sanctions being proposed by Congress on Iran’s energy sector. Exempting China and other countries from complying with new sanctions that target Iran’s energy sector is a nonstarter.
c Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, who has just returned from a trip to the Middle East, stated that he is concerned about the “unintended consequences” of a military strike. Nonetheless, the strategy to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear-weapon capability must include a Strategic Strike Plan (SSP), which could be executed on short notice. Phase I of the SSP would be limited to striking the key facilities of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, including the energy grids that support these facilities. It should be communicated to Iran that we will target its strategic oil-exporting and energy-related facilities as well as its industrial-government control centers should it elect to strike the facilities of our friends and allies in the region or interfere with the flow of oil.
Containment as a fallback strategy is not a viable option when you are dealing with the world’s leader in state-sponsored terrorism. This is particularly relevant because Mr. Ahmadinejad is a member of a small extremist sect known as the Twelves that believes “man can play a key role in causing world chaos,” which then would open the door for the return of the “hidden” Twelfth Imam. Mr. Ahmadinejad believes he has been chosen to be that man.
The above sanctions and military strike should be conducted in the announced context of supporting the Iranian people and that we have no territorial objectives. By such an announcement, we should be able to undercut the Ahmadinejad regime’s ability to mobilize the opposition forces to support the regime. With this type of positive action, the green movement will be provided with the game-changing opportunity to achieve its objectives.
James A. Lyons, retired Navy Adm. was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.