Americans are not eager to find more dragons to slay around the world. Thus, the military counter-terror effort against Iranian activity in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq will ultimately be largely a local affair with diminished U.S. support.
However, whatever deterrent forces we continue to deploy, such as our much-improved missile defenses and naval presence in the Persian Gulf region, the United States and our allies need to use whatever political, economic, diplomatic and commercial capabilities we have to help the people of Iran take the regime down themselves.
Correlation of forces against Iran?
The Iranian currency is collapsing; capital flight is growing; the middle class is rebelling, as are minorities; and government repression has accelerated including beatings, jailing, extrajudicial executions, and arbitrary arrests.
Many thousands of Iranians are protesting in multiple cities and townships against regime-caused hardships, and the mullahs can only promise them “severe punishment.”
Current U.S. sanctions have intimidated numerous multinationals from investing in Iran. As a result, the oil and gas sector, the keystone of the entire Iranian economy, is suffering. We could, as we have previously done, impose serious penalties against European banks for facilitating illicit Iran-related financial activities.
A new policy and plan
What then should be our plan?
First, of critical importance, Iran should be removed from access to SWIFT, (The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications), so it cannot sell and purchase oil. SWIFT’s corporate rules prohibit its users from engaging in “conduct which is not in line with generally accepted business conduct principles” and in 2012 the European Union took exactly such action (but it was later rescinded in 2015).
Second, Iran’s oil exports should then be effectively embargoed, with concomitant steps taken by the U.S. and its allies to step up alternative oil production including ANWR and the Keystone pipeline.
Third, Iran should be removed from international forums and its embassies shuttered, even as we mount a campaign of public diplomacy to fully support the Iranian people in their struggle to be free.
Fourth, a fully-funded program of stopping desertification and enhancing water supplies for the people of a new Iran should be planned by America and its allies. Drastic water shortages are a serious threat to millions of Iranians.
Fifth, a cyber-campaign should be implemented against Iran’s nuclear weapons program and rocket manufacturing facilities.
Sixth, the U.S. should announce that if Iranian “fast attack” boats and drones resume harassing American naval vessels, the watchwords should be “sink ‘em”.
Seventh, our border security should be stepped up to ensure threats do not enter America.
Eighth, and most important, besides a public diplomacy campaign supporting Iranian dissidents, the U.S. should help the protesters in the street. Strike funds and encrypted phones should be supplied in a fashion similar to America’s support of Poland’s Solidarity movement during the Reagan administration.
Iran is no true democracy; there are no moderates in power; Iran seeks no accommodation with the West, nor has the regime given up its quest for nuclear weapons.
In light of these truths, the inherited Iran policy must be junked. Unfortunately, changing U.S. Iran policy will not be easy. Critics of such a new administration policy say that proposing regime behavior change is a pipe dream and simply a demand that Iran “give up.” Others warn the “regime change evangelists” are back in the White House.
Non-intervention may sound attractive and it is a tempting path to follow. But what if Iran succeeded in its goal of becoming the hegemon of the Middle East, filling the vacuum that would be created by our complete withdrawal?
Such a power position would make Iran a key player of the production and sale of what some estimate to be 70 percent of the world’s hydrocarbons — a chief component of petroleum and natural gas — and would consequently give the mullahs huge leverage over the economies of all industrialized nations.
The choice before America and her allies is simple. Either help the people of Iran end the reign of the mullahs, or see a hegemon arise in the Middle East that is opposed to all our collective interests and security.
Peter Huessy is the director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies of the Air Force Association. He has been a guest professor on Nuclear Policy and Congressional Relations at the U.S. Naval Academy since 2011. Previously, Huessy was a senior defense fellow at American Foreign Policy Council.