In Iran, Like Iraq, the Objective Has Always Been Regime Change

If you trust the mainstream account, you’re likely someone who believes that President Obama’s willingness to negotiate with Iran about its nuclear program has provided Iranians with incentive to expand their program and head towards nuclear weapons, right under our noses. But according to two experienced academics and diplomats, the so-called diplomatic opening Obama brought was anything but: “for the past three years, the United States and Europe have stubbornly refused to seek a negotiated solution with Iran,” they write.

At Foreign Affairs, this country’s main establishment journal, Rolf Ekéus and Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer warn that Washington’s approach to Iran mirrors the approach it took to Iraq from 1990 on, reminding us that the goal all along was regime change:

The Iraq War might seem a thing of the past. But nearly ten years after combat began, the United States and its allies are using policies to address the Iranian nuclear challenge that are eerily similar to those it pursued in the run-up to Operation Enduring Freedom. Just as they did with Saddam Hussein, concerned governments have implemented economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, and low-level violence to weaken the Iranian regime and prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, with the long-term objective of regime change.

This perspective clears up the mystery of why the US would impose supposedly punitive sanctions on Iran despite the intelligence consensus that they have no nuclear weapons program and have demonstrated no intention of getting one.

The authors (Ekéus was Executive Chairman of the UN Special Commission on Iraq from 1991 to 1997 and Braut-Hegghammer is Stanton Nuclear Security Junior Faculty Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University) re-run the history of US policy toward Iraq following the first Gulf war in 1991. After the war, the US – with its new, post-Cold War sway at the UN Security Council – pushed through harsh economic sanctions that they said would be lifted as soon as Iraq disarmed and proved through a rigorous inspections regime that it’s nuclear program was peaceful.

Iraq largely cooperated, minus a few bumps in the road, they explain. And “by the first few months of 1997, Iraq had completed the disarmament phase of the cease-fire agreement and the United Nations had developed a monitoring system designed to detect Iraqi violations of the nonproliferation requirement.” Voila! Done deal, right?

No. The US refused to lift the sanctions, and threatened to veto proposals to do so at the UN. “In the spring of 1997,” the authors write, “former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gave a speech at Georgetown University in which she stated that even if the weapons provisions under the cease-fire resolution were completed, the United States would not agree to lifting sanctions unless Saddam had been removed from power.”

This, plus some US bombing campaigns, led Saddam to oust international inspectors, providing the Bush administration with enough blind-spots to justify war for regime change in 2003. And now, aggressive US postures towards Iran, just as they did with Iraq, “are making Iran less willing to cooperate.”

“With escalating pressure and open debate in Israel and the United States about an eventual attack, it is unlikely that Iran will be prepared to make unilateral concessions,” they write.

…calling for war while intensifying pressure on Iran, without also clearly defining steps Tehran could take to defuse the tension, removes any incentives for Iran to change its behavior. In the short term, the hostility of Western nations is likely to make it more difficult for Iranian moderates to rein in the nuclear program. And in the longer term, Tehran will increasingly question whether Iran ought to remain within the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in the face of economic sanctions, violence, and isolation. Without eyes on the ground, moreover, it will grow ever more difficult to assess Tehran’s actual progress toward the nuclear weapons threshold. The world could miss the emergence of an Iranian breakout capability, or else blunder into another unjustified war.

The Obama administration, contrary to what we might hear on MSNBC and Fox News, is imitating the Clinton administration’s relentless, rejectionist policies. In Iraq it led to millions slaughtered. Where will it lead in Iran?