The Islamic Republic of Iran poses a grave challenge to both the United States and the region.
Two decades after exposure of Iran's then-covert nuclear enrichment program, Tehran is close to a nuclear weapon, even by its own admission. Its Revolutionary Guards prop up the Syrian regime, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and various Iraqi militias. The regime openly engages in hostage diplomacy. Meanwhile, U.S. Iran policy has become a political football, with partisanship trumping any honest assessment of what works and what does not.
But there are three strategies, sometimes openly embraced and sometimes percolating just below the surface in internal policy debates and think tanks, guaranteed to fail. If the U.S. truly cares about checking the Islamic Republic's growing threat and enabling the Iranian people to embrace a moderate future, then it is time for consensus about what not to do.
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First, it is time to retire any support for the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, also known as the MEK. At best, the group is a creepy cult; at worst, it is a terrorist group. What it is not and has never been is popular or democratic. Maryam Rajavi, leader of the group and "president-elect" of its political front, is the closest thing Iranians have to the late American conspiracy theorist and huckster Lyndon LaRouche. Iranians living inside Iran might not agree on much, but they do despise the MEK based on its terrorism and past alliances with first Ayatollah Khomeini and then, after falling out with him, Saddam Hussein.
That the group sometimes reveals intelligence is no metric of its influence or infiltration within the Iranian system. First, its intelligence is often wrong. Second, even when right, it simply represents how the Israelis, Saudis, or perhaps even the CIA use the group to launder information to the public so that the real fingerprints of those who gathered it are not exposed. Any endorsement or embrace of the MEK is a gift to the Islamic Republic, as it allows the regime to rally an otherwise apathetic public around the flag.
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Second, forget any division of Iran along ethnic lines. Iran is an ethnically diverse country: Persians, Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, Lors, and others. But it does not matter that it is an artificial state pulling apart at the seams. Whereas many states arose against the backdrop of ethnonationalism in the 19th or 20th centuries, the identity of Persian statehood predates that by millennia. Attempts to spark ethnic separatism in Iran by the Soviets after World War II or Iraq in 1979 failed, but in each case, the backlash resulted in a stronger Iranian dictatorship. True, some Azeris might chant slogans at soccer matches and Arabs rally against regime corruption, but in each case, the broader motivation is antipathy toward a corrupt regime rather than a desire for independence. Consider Tabriz: It may be ethnically Azeri, but it is also a former capital of Iran, the traditional seat of the crown prince, and the epicenter of Iran's constitutional movement. To bring Iran into the international community means winning over Iranians of all ethnicities and sects, not signaling to them that the goal is the destruction of Iran.
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It will be necessary to "follow well" this partnership between the Iran and Russia, which "is worrying for the future", underlines General Jean-Paul Palomeros, former chief of the Air Force Staff. Franceinfo: What is exactly this satellite and can we use it for military purposes? Jean-Paul Palomeros: is a very classic satellite that allows you to take photos for all types of activities: border surveillance, the environment, both military and civil.
The final strategy guaranteed to backfire is endless diplomacy.
Partisans are wrong to say "Maximum Pressure" did not work. Such a claim, though, is not evidence that resourcing Iran's regime is wise. Because of the Revolutionary Guard's stranglehold over the economy, any windfall from sanctions relief strengthens the most reactionary elements of the regime. More importantly, engagement for its own sake ignores the Islamic Republic's motivations: both ideological and tactical. For the White House, diplomacy might be about the search for a win-win solution. For Iran, it is an asymmetric warfare strategy to distract the opponent while centrifuges spin and terrorist groups arm.
There is no magic formula to resolve disputes with Iran, nor are there shortcuts. It will take bipartisan solidarity, a credible military threat, maximum pressure, and a strategy to break the Revolutionary Guard's ironclad grip on society. But first, it is important to drop the strategies that do more harm than good.
Michael Rubin (@mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
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