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Will the US save Iran’s Islamic revolution?

The Iranian regime survived the 2009 Green Revolution, but the Islamic Revolution it is founded upon was put on life support.  Its heartbeat weakened every day until the economic collapse was reversed by the easing of sanctions.  The Iranian threat is rooted in this ideology and a nuclear deal risks revitalizing it, transforming it from a clearly failed doctrine to one of strength and wealth. 

The sea of demonstrators wasn’t a snapshot provoked by a single fraudulent election.  It was the fruition of a movement that previously surfaced in the 1990s and ended with violent suppression.  The current “moderate” President Rouhani endorsed the regime’s efforts to “crush mercilessly” its opponents.

{mosads}Over 60 percent of Iranians are under the age of 30 and widely seen as liberals desiring sweeping political change who are even pro-American by the standards of the Middle East.  They see the Islamic Revolution as a recipe for bankruptcy, isolation, repression and national weakness.  A booming economy and regime stability would present the Islamic Revolution as a viable ideology that only needed time, backbone and minor refinement for success. 

Iran’s exporting of the Islamic Revolution is a glimpse of what an enriched regime would do.  Hezbollah reportedly had its budget cut in 2010 by 40 percent.  The Obama administration revealed its “secret deal” with Al-Qaeda shortly after taking office.  It helps kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan by assisting the Taliban and other Sunni terrorists.  And Sunni extremists like ISIS thrive wherever the Shiite Islamic Revolution rears its head. 

Supreme Leader Khamenei recently stopped just short of formally declaring jihad on Saudi Arabia.  The rivalry presents a major threat to the U.S. economy and even to the American homeland.  Iran is suspected of trying to shut down Saudi oil production in a major cyber attack, as well as trying to kill the Saudi ambassador by blowing up a restaurant in Washington D.C.  Hostilities have grown significantly worse since. 

In addition to its activity in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza, Iran has opportunities in Shiite-majority Bahrain and inside Saudi Arabia itself.  The Houthis can attack north and Iran can stir up trouble in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, a Shiite-majority area where the majority of the Royal Family’s oil is inconveniently located. 

It is sometimes argued that lifting sanctions will promote change by empowering Iranians and enabling globalization.  However, business is most likely to be done with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that controls at least one-third of the economy.  Rouhani also increased its funding even though the government budget has no room for the additional expenditures. 

The West cannot simply try a deal, ease sanctions and change course if the result isn’t desirable.  International businesses profiting from trade with the regime will lobby against renewed sanctions and it will be exceedingly difficult to convince countries around the world to forego their economic interests.  

There is room for the two parties to come together while disagreeing on the nuclear deal.  Hillary Clinton endorsed labeling the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization when she last ran for President.  The Republican nominee is likely to agree.  Yet, it does not appear on the State Department’s list. 

Sanctions on Iranian entities and individuals involved in terrorism and human rights violations must remain and be strengthened. Any business that knowingly trades with an IRGC entity or any other involved in terrorism and abusing Iranian freedom activists must be punished.  

The opening of an embassy in Tehran will be highly controversial if it were to happen.  Both sides should agree that any diplomacy with Iran must be about the country and not just the regime.  Dissidents deserve a seat at the table.  We must not favor a regime and ideology that is fading into the past over the civil society that will form the future. 

Heated debate about nuclear negotiations must not overshadow both parties’ declared support for the Iranian people’s aspirations for freedom.  All candidates need to explain how their approach will foster change away from theocracy.  A deal that potentially limits Iran’s nuclear program but saves the Islamic Revolution is unacceptable and bound for failure. 

Mauro is the national security analyst for the Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security.

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