Home/Daniel Larison/Seeking U.S.-Backed Regime Change in Iran Is Wrong

Seeking U.S.-Backed Regime Change in Iran Is Wrong

Andrew McCarthy makes an unpersuasive case for regime change in Iran:

So, of course our goal should be regime change. No, we do not want to invade to achieve it, but it should still be our objective. The president should not be shy about saying so, or about turning all levers of government power (political, diplomatic, legal, and covert, as well as military and financial) in that direction. It would be a good way of setting expectations for the mullahs, for the craven European governments that want us to appease the mullahs, and for the Iranian people we would like to see rise up against the mullahs.

And the president should drop the nonsense about “disproportionate” attacks and “endless wars.” If he is really serious about stopping Tehran from developing nukes, then he must convince the regime that he is keeping all options on the table — especially the ones he hopes never to use.

There is a lot wrong with McCarthy’s argument, starting with his laughable assertion that “the JCPOA would put Iran on a glide path toward becoming a nuclear-weapons power.” Iran hawks are going to lie about the nuclear deal (it’s what they do), and it should suffice at this point to say that this is a lie and leave it at that. It should go without saying that a successful nonproliferation agreement doesn’t allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons at any time, and the people that are doing their utmost to drive Iran to become a nuclear weapons state are the same ones that want to kill the JCPOA. An argument that begins with a lie is not likely to win over anyone that doesn’t already endorse its conclusion. Regime change in Iran should not be the objective of the U.S. government, and pursuing that goal is an incredible waste of time, money, resources, and energy that could be used to advance genuine U.S. interests.

One important reason that the U.S. shouldn’t pursue regime change is that Iran poses no real threat to the United States. As a general rule, our government shouldn’t be seeking the overthrow of a foreign government. It is not our government’s right or responsibility to topple a foreign government. It certainly shouldn’t waste its time trying to overthrow a government that cannot hurt the U.S. The idea that Iran has been “at war” with the U.S. for 40 years is little more than propaganda. The Iranian government has been adversarial and occasionally hostile, but when we compare the damage that the Iranian government has done with the harm done by other governments that we have normal relations with it is clear that we have reconciled with far worse adversaries after suffering far greater losses. When we consider our government’s hostility towards Iran over the decades and the wrongs that our government has done to Iranians, it should make us recognize that we have made our fair share of mistakes in poisoning the relationship between our countries.

McCarthy says that “we do not want to invade” to achieve regime change, but he doesn’t rule it out. That should be disqualifying by itself. In fact, he makes a point of saying that Trump shouldn’t rule out a war to achieve regime change. The serial failures of previous U.S. wars for regime change have taught him nothing. He acknowledges the Iraq war was a mistake, but “only because of the way it was carried out.” The illegal preventive war against Iraq does not bother him in the slightest. What bothers him was the decision “to bog down in an Iraqi democracy project.” In other words, he is arguing that illegal aggression against another country is fine so long as you don’t spend too much time trying (however ineptly) to clean up the mess you made. McCarthy doesn’t really think that making war on Iraq was the mistake, and so of course he doesn’t think making war on Iran would be, either. Explicitly threatening Iran with regime change will “set expectations” for our allies, the Iranian government, and the Iranian people, but the effect would be to horrify our allies, harden the Iranian government’s determination to resist, and drive the people to support their government against foreign aggression.

It is not surprising that the welfare and preferences of the Iranian people are nowhere to be found in McCarthy’s article. The only reference to the 80+ million people inhabiting the country he wants to throw into chaos is when he mentions “the Iranian people we would like to see rise up against the mullahs.” McCarthy sees the Iranian people at best as an instrument of U.S. regime change policy, and it never occurs to him that most Iranians don’t want to overthrow their government at all, much less as part of a U.S.-backed effort. No doubt McCarthy and other Iran hawks “would like to see” the Iranian people do what they want, but the Iranian people aren’t interested in their regime change fantasies. Many Iranians want social and political reforms, and they are frustrated with the corruption and abuses of their government, but that doesn’t mean that they want to see their government overthrown or their country thrown into disorder. Like every arrogant regime changer before him, McCarthy presumes that the U.S. should dictate the political future of another country because it suits what he wants. It is wrong, it is unjust, and it has nothing to do with U.S. interests. Seeking regime change in Iran is wrong, and Trump’s Iran policy is wrong because it is what he has been seeking in all but name for more than a year.

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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