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The Missed Opportunity in Iran That Wasn’t (II)

Charles Krauthammer outdoes himself in saying that Obama ought to have armed the opposition…in Iran (via Ali Gharib):

O’REILLY: But what else could he have done except rhetoric?

KRAUTHAMMER: Weaponry — he could have done a lot of things. Rhetoric is one thing and not to support the legitimacy of the regime. Clandestine operations. Why do we have $50 billion in secret operations in the CIA if not for an opportunity like this? He was hands off. He did nothing and we lost one of the great opportunities in history.

Gharib correctly points out that the Iranian election protesters wished to remain non-violent, so it’s not clear what offering arms to people who don’t want to use them would have accomplished. Nothing would have been more useful to the regime’s propaganda against those it called “seditionists” than to encourage Iranian opposition supporters to engage in actual sedition and insurrection against their government. Krauthammer is saying that Obama should have ordered another Operation Ajax, except on a much larger scale. This suggests that Krauthammer must think that most Iranians would not view this as a transparent attempt to install a puppet regime, but this is exactly what it would be, and we can be sure that most Iranians would resent the attempt.

Krauthammer makes another significant error here that deserves more attention. Virtually every hawkish critic of Obama’s response to the Iranian regime’s crackdown on protesters in 2009 and 2010 maintains that the Green movement represented an “opportunity”to overthrow the regime. This is wrong for two reasons. Most important, the Green movement was seeking redress and reform within the existing political system. It was not a movement seeking regime change. Western hawks valued the Green movement because they saw it as a potential weapon to use against the regime, but the Green movement had no interest in serving as a Western weapon against their own government, no matter how strongly they objected to the leadership’s abuses and behavior. The belief that there was an “opportunity” to overthrow the regime badly underestimates how entrenched the Iranian regime was then and still is today. Stoking an Iranian civil war probably would not have brought down the regime, and it would have pitted a badly outgunned opposition against the combined forces of the military and the IRGC. Had Obama done what Krauthammer suggested, the Iranian opposition would not only have been crushed, but most of its members would likely have been killed and the prospects for internal political change in Iran set back by decades. It would have been a bloody debacle, and it would have re-confirmed the most negative Iranian views of U.S. policy towards their country.

P.S. Krauthammer’s treatment of Russia policy in the same interview is similarly risible, but there is so little to it that it isn’t worth discussing at any length.

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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