As Iran continues a policy of delay and division in the face of international concern about its nuclear weapons program, it is time for the Obama administration to reconsider one element of its strategy. That would be to find ways to support a growing movement within Iran that rejects the repressive rule of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the entrenched fundamentalist clerics in power.
As we have said before, there are no easy answers as Iran moves ever closer to the nuclear threshold.
Perhaps the Obama administration had good reason to hope Iran’s leaders would respond to diplomatic outreach. But the leaders in Tehran have made it clear they regard diplomacy as little more than a handy way to more buy time while the centrifuges spin and Iranian scientists move ever closer to their goal.
International sanctions will not be truly effective unless universally applied, and there’s little indication Russia and China, among others, will put global security ahead of their own economic and political interests and join the U.S.-led effort. Their calls to give diplomacy more time only advance Iran’s stall tactics.
Unilateral U.S. sanctions send an important message about Washington’s commitment to resolving the crisis, but alone they are unlikely to dissuade an Iranian regime that has decades’ worth of experience in coping with economic pressure.
There remains the possibility of regime change — not by force, but through support for the brave Iranians who have taken to the streets to demonstrate their anger about a government that puts its fanatic hatred of Israel and its crazy visions of regional hegemony ahead of the welfare of its own people.
To be sure, support for a new Iranian revolution for human rights must be carefully thought out and deftly implemented; the risk is great that clumsy U.S. support for the dissident movement could backfire and rally the populace behind the repressive government in Tehran.
Last June, in the early days of demonstrations after the sham national elections in Iran, President Barack Obama waited too long before issuing a forceful message of condemnation of the repressive actions the government took against its own citizens. By the time the president spoke out, the moment of action seemed to have passed.
Time is running out now, and the options for preventing Iran from menacing the world with weapons of mass terror are shrinking. Creative, smart and subtle ways must be found to aid the courageous Iranians who seek more democracy and understand their leaders are rapidly bringing their country to the brink of catastrophe.
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