A heavyweight group of mostly neoconservative hawks
has published a new proposal for Iran policy that relies heavily on "peaceful"
strategies to achieve regime change, such as those used by Washington since the
1980s in Central and Eastern Europe, most recently in Serbia and Ukraine.
group, the Committee on the Present Danger
(CPD), targets Iran's Supreme Authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the theocratic
apparatus that supports him in the paper titled, "Iran – A New Approach,"
and assumes, "Iran's people ... are our allies."
to free themselves from Khamenei's oppression and they want Iran to join the community
of prosperous, peaceful democracies," it says, characterizing its policy
recommendations as a "peaceful but forceful strategy to engage with the Iranian
people to remove the threat and establish the strong relationship which is in
both nations' and the region's interests."
While reserving "the
right to take out or cripple [Khamenei's] nuclear capabilities" if Tehran
fails to comply with current agreements with Britain, France, Germany, and the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the paper strongly advocates a policy
of people-to-people engagement – particularly for young Iranians who are
seen as especially alienated from the regime – as well as greater use of
television, radio, and the Internet to "communicate directly with the Iranian
It also calls for re-opening the U.S. Embassy in Tehran,
which was closed 25 years ago after militants invaded the embassy grounds and
took U.S. diplomatic personnel there hostage.
The plan does not address
the possible use of covert paramilitary action against Iran's nuclear program
or the regime, despite published reports that the administration of President
George W. Bush has already authorized covert operations aimed at destabilizing
the government. The paper's main author, Mark Palmer, told IPS on Tuesday such
actions should not be necessary.
Palmer, a speechwriter for former President
Ronald Reagan who also served as ambassador to Hungary and has been a tireless
promoter of U.S. "democratic" assistance abroad, said some CPD members
opposed the paper initially because it smacked too much of "engagement"
Among the most prominent members of the CPD, founded last
summer as a lobby group designed to rally support behind the broadest aims of
the "war on terrorism," are former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
chief James Woolsey; Center for Security Policy Director Frank Gaffney; former
Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich; and a flock
of other hawks from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Project for the
New American Century (PNAC), and other groups that beat the drums for war against
Iraq before the US invasion in March 2003.
Until now, many CPD members
have called for dealing with Iran, particularly its nuclear program, almost exclusively
with isolation and confrontation, including military action.
was concern that [sending an ambassador to Tehran] would strengthen or legitimize
the regime as it is," said Palmer, who characterized the two-month process
that led to the paper's approval as a "vigorous discussion."
view was that was too narrow a view," he added, noting that Washington had
embassies in Soviet bloc nations in the 1980s but still supported democratic forces
that led the mainly peaceful ouster of the Communist regimes there.
whose recent book, Breaking
the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World's Last Dictators by 2025,
has been greeted with considerable skepticism by regional specialists in academia
and Washington think tanks, was strongly backed during the discussion by former
Secretary of State George Shultz, who co-chairs the CPD along with Woolsey.
fact that Shultz, seen by some analysts here as an eminence grise of the
Bush administration, is backing the policy is especially significant. The taciturn
diplomat, who introduced National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to Bush a
year before the 2000 election and encouraged her to move to the State Department
post in a second term, has also long championed one of her most influential advisors,
Middle East director for the National Security Council (NSC), Elliott Abrams,
as well as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
Although Shultz's efforts
to reach out to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s deeply disappointed
prominent neoconservatives, he has taken a very hard line, generally consistent
with their own, in the "war on terrorism."
Shultz, who co-chaired
the short-lived Committee to Liberate Iraq, has been especially hawkish on terrorism
since Washington's ill-fated intervention in Lebanon after Israel's 1982 invasion.
The paper notes, "Iran under Khamenei," in addition to pursuing "regional
hegemony" in the Middle East, "continues to be the world's foremost
state supporter of terrorism."
It asserts that the regime's policies
have led to "deep alienation" within Iran as demonstrated by the 1997
and 2001 elections for parliament and the presidency that reformists won by large
margins, as well as the regime's resort to "hired paramilitary thugs"
to quash student demonstrations in 2002.
Specific elements of a new U.S.
policy, according to the paper, would include:
- A major policy address
by Bush that would pledge to "reconnect with the Iranian people, to help
the vast majority of Iranians who want democracy to achieve it ... to assure their
security in return for not acquiring nuclear weapons and to help develop their
- An announcement of U.S. willingness to re-open its embassy
in Tehran and the designation of a senior official devoted to the coordination
and implementation of the policy, including lobbying U.S. allies, speaking with
Iranians via various media, and engaging with senior Iranian government officials,
as opposed to "ordinary diplomats in the Foreign Ministry";
Making clear that Washington will not accept Iran's possession of nuclear weapons
and will back that up with force, presumably unilateral, if necessary;
Supporting Iranian democrats and dissidents "to make clear that they are
our partners in a new dialogue and that even as we meet with representatives of
the Khamenei regime, we consider these to be illegitimate." Support would
include sending Iranian activists abroad for short seminars with their counterparts,
"who have been successful in organizing civic campaigns in Serbia, the Philippines,
Indonesia, Chile, and elsewhere";
- Developing relations with the
military and various other security services in Iran in order to undermine the
regime's "pillars of support," and marshaling evidence for a legal case
against Khamenei for indictment in an appropriate tribunal;
other "smart" sanctions to isolate the regime and its supporters, including
the revolutionary foundations, or "bunyads," by publicly identifying
companies and bank accounts controlled by them to highlight alleged corruption
and prepare legal cases for economic crimes; and
- Attempting to launch
a "dialogue with Khamenei and the clerics around him about how to arrange
"a way to exit peacefully from political power, combined with indications
of the alternatives (jail or hanging)."
"For too long, an academic
debate over engagement versus containment, dialogue versus regime change has dominated
and weakened America's approach to Iran," according to the report.
[CPD] believes that we need a new approach, one based on a sober recognition of
the threat Khamenei presents, but also an appreciation of our new strengths and
the opportunity before us."
One Iran specialist, William Beeman of
Brown University, said he was "appalled" by the six-page paper.
have no idea about Iranian politics or governmental structure. They have decided
for some bizarre reason to present Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as if he were some kind
of Saddam-like dictator. I suppose this helps their audience fit the current Iranian
governmental structure into a ready-made pigeonhole."