Dem lawmaker: Iranian regime will self-destruct

A House Democrat is saying that, rather than confront Iran over its nuclear arms program, the U.S. would be better served by letting the Iranian regime crumble from internal friction. His idea, however, is drawing criticism from foreign policy experts.

Amid calls from Republicans and Democrats to pressure Tehran anew to halt the program with tougher economic sanctions or even a military strike, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, told The Hill he is dismayed by what he called a growing drumbeat on Capitol Hill to use military force against Iran.

Some analysts agree.

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In late 2010, former Pentagon strategist Chuck Spinney wrote about a “concatenation of warmongering pressures” to bomb Iran, in an essay titled “Beating the War Drums in Versailles on the Potomac.”

One year later, Spinney sees “a further escalation of these pressures.”

In an example of Washington’s escalating rhetoric toward Iran, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said during a television interview taped last Saturday that a nuclear-armed Iran would be “unacceptable.”

“The United States does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon,” Panetta said. “That’s a red line for us and that’s a red line, obviously, for the Israelis. If we have to do it, we will deal with it.”

That kind of talk has been more prevalent in the weeks following a November International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report that concluded Tehran is closer than ever to having a nuclear weapon.

That raised eyebrows in Washington and across the West, largely because a 2007 U.S. intelligence assessment had stated that Iran had frozen its nuclear arms program. Since that IAEA report surfaced, lawmakers and some Obama administration officials have increased calls to confront Iran and force it to halt the program.

But Moran on Tuesday said he was concerned about the increased calls to confront Tehran.

Moran told The Hill he wonders if several issues — a military facing budget cuts, the end of the Iraq War and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan — are driving “all this talk about doing something about Iran.”

Moran said he is dismayed by the growing drumbeat on Capitol Hill in the wake of the IAEA’s findings to use military force to cripple Iran’s nuclear program.

The veteran lawmaker said there is another way to counter Iran.

“Experts keep telling us that it is apparent” that senior Iranian leaders “are opposing each other internally.”

Rather than launch a military operation — or assist an Israeli one — Moran said U.S. officials should allow Iran’s government to “fall apart under the weight of their own differences.”

Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress said Moran “is correct that there are serious tensions between the Iranian president and the supreme leader.”

“But I don’t know if that adds up to a conclusion that it's crumbling from within,” Katulis said. “It seems to me there's a gap between tensions and a conclusion that the regime is about to collapse or might collapse.”

Moran's statement shows “people on the Hill oversimplify things,” Katulis said. “It seems a lot of the Iran debate is framed in caricatures that aren’t related to the real policy options or the reality of the situation.”

Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute agreed, saying there “is evidence of internal strife” but “absolutely no indication that … the regime to will fall.”

Even if it did, Pletka doubts a new regime would cast aside the hard-line Islamist governing style that would abandon the nuclear weapons program.

“Why would they?” she asked rhetorically.

Pletka also took umbrage with Moran’s sense of a growing beat of war drums in Washington.

“There are not too many people speaking in favor of military force,” she said. “There is no authorization in the Congress. The administration has made clear they are reluctant [to strike Iran’s nuclear sites]. So I’m not sure where the congressman derives this from.”