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Flynn’s Dangerous Goal of Regime Change

Christopher Fettweis reviews [1] Flynn and Ledeen’s Field of Fight. Here he comments on their fixation on Iran:

Although regime change in Iran is the central goal of the global war on terror, Flynn and Ledeen do not advocate military action. Instead they believe that the task can be accomplished politically, by lending support to the internal Iranian opposition. The Soviet Union was brought down internally, after all, so why not Iran?

How exactly the United States could trigger the collapse of the Iranian regime without sparking a war is left to the imagination of the reader. Flynn and Ledeen are uninterested in details. Instead we are told that it would take only determination and courage to motivate the Iranian people to send the Mullahs into oblivion [bold mine-DL], without having to fire a shot. Failure to enable 2009’s “Green Revolution” is, by their estimation, one of President Obama’s many unforgivable decisions.

Even if it were desirable to destabilize yet another country in the region, this shows just how deluded Flynn and Ledeen are when it comes to achieving their goal of regime change. First, they assume that Iranians would cooperate in pursuing a goal that most of them don’t actually support. They mistakenly view the election protests of 2009-2010 as a movement aimed at overthrowing the regime, but it was something quite different and had the goal of reforming the existing system. Flynn and Ledeen fault the U.S. for not doing more to help that movement, but this wrongly assumes that the movement’s leaders wanted U.S. help (they didn’t) and that U.S. assistance would be useful to them (it wouldn’t have been). They assume they know what most Iranians want, but ignore their enduring resentment against foreign interference in their politics generally and hostility to American interference in particular. They also make a typical hawkish mistake in both grossly exaggerating the threat from a foreign regime and assuming that eliminating that threat will be easy and cheap. This is all consistent with the shoddy analysis we have seen from other parts of their book, and it confirms that Trump is going to be getting some very bad advice from his top security adviser.

In addition to all of their errors of analysis, Flynn and Ledeen have the wrong goal. If the U.S. tried to do what Flynn and Ledeen want, it would increase regional tensions and hurt the Iranian opposition. Neither the U.S. nor most Iranians would benefit from this, but it would strengthen the hand of regime hard-liners. It would give those hard-liners a ready-made excuse for increased repression, and would increase the likelihood of armed conflict over the longer term. When our government has made regime change in another country the official policy in the past, it has usually not been long before force is used to achieve it. A war with Iran might not come right away, but if Flynn convinces Trump that regime change should be the goal of our policy it becomes much more likely in the future.

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13 Comments To "Flynn’s Dangerous Goal of Regime Change"

#1 Comment By John Mann On November 30, 2016 @ 11:49 am

” They assume they know what most Iranians want, but ignore their enduring resentment against foreign interference in their politics generally and hostility to American interference in particular.”

I suspect that most Americans have never heard of Iran Air Flight 655*, and those that have heard of it have long since forgotten it. But I suspect that it has not been forgotten in Iran, and that it has had its effect on the way Iranians think of America.

*see [2]

#2 Comment By Tommy in N. NJ On November 30, 2016 @ 12:00 pm

Let’s hope Flynn’s book was just a sales job designed to ingratiate him with the sort of GOP candidate most people expected to be running against Hillary, some neocon-hobbled Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio type candidate. Thanks to Ledeen’s involvement it probably sounds like a blast from a discredited past than it should, particularly the Israel fanatic stuff that is Ledeen’s stock in trade. The question is to what extent Flynn himself really buys into any of that crap.

#3 Comment By Chris Chuba On November 30, 2016 @ 12:43 pm

Let’s suppose the Iranians funded groups within the U.S., like the Montana Freeman, or the Disenfranchised Muslims, or …, that favored regime change. Wouldn’t this rightfully be considered an act of war?

The fact that we consider this acceptable shows that our mindset is fundamentally flawed. Oh, but we do get upset when an Iranian speedboat points a gun at an armed helicopter that is approaching it. That is unforgivable.

#4 Comment By a spencer On November 30, 2016 @ 1:14 pm

As though regime change in Iran wouldn’t result in socialism.

It wasn’t just muslims that participated in the 79 revolution. The Communists were there, too.

#5 Comment By Viriato On November 30, 2016 @ 2:32 pm

@a spencer: I’d much prefer a socialist Iran to the Islamic Republic. I would not be at all saddened to see the Islamic Republic go. In fact, if there is one current regime on this planet that I absolutely despise, it would be the Iranian regime. I oppose regime change in Iran as a US policy goal, but only because I fear it would further destabilize the region, just like what happened with regime change in Iraq, Libya, etc.

#6 Comment By EarlyBird On November 30, 2016 @ 4:10 pm

Flynn and Ledeen are insane. The absolute worst thing to happen for reform in Iran and the best possible thing for the mullahs is for the US to get behind the Green Revolution, thereby “Americanizing” the entire movement and making it another outside power play by “the Great Satan.” It would utterly delegitimize the movement.

Unbelievable that this isn’t painfully obvious to these “experts.”

#7 Comment By deal breaker On November 30, 2016 @ 9:36 pm

“Unbelievable that this isn’t painfully obvious to these “experts.””

I think it is obvious to them. I think they want Iran to stay as it is. A hostile, messed-up Iran means that American taxpayers keep arming Israel and sending it what is now the largest gratis wealth transfer from one country to another in human history.

Speaking of which, I’m still waiting for Trump or any of his advisors to notice that the biggest ripoff and worst “deal” in the long, failed history of American “foreign aid” is our deal with Israel (and to a lesser extent Egypt). It has had staggeringly higher costs and far worse consequences than the one we struck with Iran.

#8 Comment By Chris D On December 1, 2016 @ 1:59 am

Some impressions as someone who has been to Iran three times.

Iran had revolutions about 1906,1953 and 1979. Iranis would prefer gradual change rather than another.

Some Iranis I know are actually of Azerbaijani or Kurdish origin. Sorry neo-cons, they have an Iranian identity and ethnic sub-identity. They are not separatists.

Iran reminds me of what my country must have been like in the 1920s after WW1 (New Zealand). The war is remembered. There are regular TV programs about it,. Murals of the fallen are painted on the ends of apartment buildings – and refreshed. Families go to Beheshte-Zahra (the huge cemetery south of Tehran) to remember their fallen relatives.
I stayed with people who had no love of the government – and in South Tehran, not the rich north. That would change in an instant if Iran were attacked.
And the Mujahadin-e Khalq – so beloved of McCain and other ignorant fantasists – oh, give me a break! Ask an Irani what they think.

#9 Comment By EliteCommInc. On December 1, 2016 @ 9:19 am

While I support a healthy weariness about everything Iranian. We just had an election in which a good deal of hay was made about foreign meddling (unverified though it was).

Part of our prudence should be too refrain from meddling in the internal affairs of other states. If we are going to scream foul about foreign funds entering US politics, it might be a good idea to exercise some restraint, save in rare cases.

The case to be made concerning Iran is in Iraq. And there we have responsibility and some moral obligation to influence the or correct the mess we have made. But again our interference has had rather lackluster results.

Cautionary tales: Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria and Libya

#10 Comment By Denyse Prendergast On December 1, 2016 @ 12:26 pm

Will we never learn? Destabilizing such countries hasn’t worked for us yet. Flynn’s rather extreme statements about Muslims and the Middle East may or may not be rhetoric, but the fact that he will be the Director of the NSA, advising a President with no foreign policy experience, is a serious concern.

#11 Comment By RZ On December 1, 2016 @ 1:22 pm

The hardliners in Iran also appear to want out of the treaty. Their easiest path to that end appears to be to do something to provoke Trump.

#12 Comment By bayesian On December 1, 2016 @ 4:31 pm


In fact, if there is one current regime on this planet that I absolutely despise, it would be the Iranian regime.

Really? Why? That is, why do you “absolutely despise” the Islamic Republic of Iran (of which I’m no fan) more than, for example:

1) The DPRK, which has to set some sort of record for immiseration of its own people given available materials (Zimbabwe is trying to move up a league, but they still have a ways to go).

2) The KSA, which IMHO causes far more long term outside the borders damage than Iran through funding Wahabism and salafism, and is also IMHO rather worse to its own citizens, let alone noncitizen residents. Standard Rawlsian test – would you rather be a random Saudi citizen or a random Iranian citizen, bearing in mind that you have a 50% chance of being female?

#13 Comment By MEexpert On December 2, 2016 @ 6:23 pm

I think the critical term here is “Israel.” Ledeen has only one interest in life and that is Israel. Iran is the only country in the middle east that hasn’t been bought by Israel and the US. The neocons can’t stomach that. Look at all the names that have been thrown around for Trump’s cabinet. All have one thing in common. They all want to pander to Israel. Flynn, Palin, Giuliani, Petraeus, Romney (who, as President, was going to defer the US foreign policy to Netanyahu, and the list goes on. Who said the neocons lost?