Home/Daniel Larison/Of Course Regime Change Is the Goal

Of Course Regime Change Is the Goal

National Security Advisor John Bolton attends meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Oct. 23, 2018. (Office of the Russian President/public domain)

Bolton repeated the official administration line on their Iran policy:

Asked whether he was at odds with President Donald Trump, who said earlier this week that the U.S. was not looking for regime change in Iran, he said: “The policy we’re pursuing is not a policy of regime change. That’s the fact and everybody should understand it that way.”

Bolton and Pompeo have said the same thing many times before, so it wasn’t news when Trump said it the other day. The problem is that this statement cannot be taken at face value. Like all the other things Bolton says, we should not believe it. The reason that so many people took Trump’s statement as evidence of a rift with Bolton is that no one believes Bolton when he says that they aren’t seeking regime change. Not only does Bolton have a long history of calling for exactly this, but he has ties with the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), the totalitarian cult of exiles that also seek to overthrow the Iranian government. The idea that an administration with a known regime changer, MEK booster, and Iran hawk as National Security Advisor isn’t seeking regime change in Iran is risible, but that is what administration officials expect us to accept. Furthermore, we know that administration officials and their allies imagine that they are reenacting Reagan’s policy against the Soviet Union. They clearly want to bring down the Iranian government, but they don’t want to be caught admitting that publicly for political reasons.

The administration has a huge credibility deficit, and they make it worse whenever they talk about Iran. Trump administration officials routinely assert that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. We know this to be a lie. They also claim that they support the Iranian people and are “on their side,” but that is impossible when they have imposed sanctions that punish and impoverish the entire population and imposed a travel ban that bars Iranians from coming here. Pompeo has repeatedly told the lie that Iran is primarily to blame for the war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen. All of these officials say demonstrably untrue things about Iranian behavior and their own behavior, and we should assume the same is true when they deny that they seek regime change.

If we judge the administration by their actions instead of their rhetoric, it becomes clear that they are demanding such a radical change in the Iranian government that they are for all intents and purposes calling for regime change. They don’t use the phrase to describe their policy because they realize how politically toxic it is after the wars in Iraq and Libya, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still seeking the same outcome. The fact that they are currently using economic warfare instead of military intervention to pursue this goal doesn’t change anything.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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