Here we go again with the regime change

By Benjamin Denison

In a new Foreign Affairs article this week, Eric Edelman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the Council on Foreign Relations’ Ray Takeyh argue that the United States should be using every tool of statecraft at its disposal to aid dissidents in Iran to overthrow the regime.

They bluntly state that, with Iran, the “only U.S. policy that makes sense is to seek regime change.” They contend that the Iranian regime is inherently revolutionary, and as such, American interests in the Middle East can only be secure once the regime is deposed.

To carry out regime change in Iran, the authors contend that covertly supporting dissident movements, engaging in public diplomacy campaigns, and continuing the use of sanctions and other tools of statecraft to put maximum pressure on the regime is necessary. In so doing, they contend that the U.S. can aid local dissidents and protestors to overthrow the theocracy in Tehran, and the U.S. can begin reaping the benefits of negotiating with a less revolutionary regime.

There are a host of issues with this argument that the U.S. has implicit interests in engaging in regime change in Iran. Chief among these problems is the belief that the regime change strategy proffered “will not be terribly costly.”

Even if the diagnosis of a weak, revolutionary theocracy in Iran is correct, the costs of engaging in regime change cannot be minimized. Attempting regime change in Tehran would harm not only average Iranian citizens and future relations between Iran and the U.S., but also the utility of various tools of American foreign policy in future contexts.

Research has shown that regime change fails to succeed in its objectives, increases domestic unrest and instability, and harms the effectiveness of various tools of American foreign policy when they become seen as agents of regime change. In the end, the pursuit of regime change in Iran would only most likely harm the dissident movements and domestic population the authors seek to support more than the Iranian regime they distrust.


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