Dian Esfandiary explains why the Trump administration’s policy of regime change in all but name is harming the prospects of real, gradual change in Iran:
Many outside Iran continue to view Iran’s policies and actions through the prism of outdated visions of the clerical regime, based on how Tehran operated in the early days of the revolution. Today’s Iran is different. It has changed, along with its society and the region it’s in. And as a result, it is not on the brink of collapse. The Trump administration’s obsessive belief that Iran only needs to be squeezed some more before it falls apart is wrong. In fact, pushing for regime change does little but ignore Iranians’ desire to avoid a repeat of 1979 and discredit those promoting change inside Iran.
It is one of the absurdities of the Iran policy debate that the people that insist on regime change are in favor of the policies least likely to assist in promoting political change inside Iran. Iran hawks are consistently wrong about what will bring about the kind of political change that most Iranians want, and they routinely support policies that tend to benefit the regime at the expense of the population. They desire the regime’s downfall, and yet virtually everything they have done over the last twenty years has strengthened Iran’s regional position and helped tighten the regime’s grip on power.
Trump’s policy of collective punishment is no different. It throttles the economy, impoverishes the people, stifles dissent, and forces many of the most ambitious and enterprising people to leave the country in large numbers. No one who wants Iranians to enjoy a free, more prosperous future would do the things that Iran hawks have been doing to Iran for decades, and Iran’s hard-liners could ask for no better unwitting allies than their counterparts here in the U.S. For the same reason, the Trump administration’s bankrupt Iran policy is a disaster for Iranian opponents of the regime.
As Esfandiary says, the regime is not on the verge of collapse and the administration is simply wrong in believing that it is. I would add that the Trump administration’s attempt to force that collapse is likely to help it to last longer than it would have on its own. The losers in all of this, as always, are the Iranian people, whose legitimate grievances and aspirations are being misused by our government as talking points in support of a policy that will only make conditions worse.