For now, the nuttyrecommendation of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group that the UnitedStates should engage in direct talks with Syria and Iran appears tohave been mooted by events on theground.
U.S. militaryforces have caught Iran red-handed – twice – over thepast few weeks in Iraq, No one can possibly doubt any longer what Iand many others have been saying for some time: that Iran is involvedon the ground in Iraq and is aiding both Sunni and Shia insurgents inan effort to blow that country apart.
But like all bad ideas in Washington, rest assured that theBaker-Hamilton recommendation of direct talks will come back. Studygroup members can be counted upon to argue thatthecapture of top Iranian RevolutionaryGuards and intelligenceofficials in Iraq only proves their point that Iran has realinfluence and thus must be dealt with directly, to prevent them fromplaying the spoiler’s role.¬Ý
And by the way, theywill argue, what’s the alternative? Nuke Iran?
It is regrettable andtruly astonishing that President Bush has not applied to Iran and toSyria the same global vision he has so eloquently displayed inregards to Iraq and other fronts in the global war against theIslamic jihad. Because there is a clear alternative to thecapitulation offered by Baker, Hamilton, and their advisors.
Instead of rewarding these regimes, the United States should use itstremendous resources to contain Syria and to undermine thelegitimacy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Such a policy is notfar-fetched, nor is it based solely on ideology, althoughcompellingmoral arguments can bemade in its favor. Instead, it serves the national and historicinterests of the United States.
Syria is a weak andfailing state, that survives largely because it goesunchallenged.
After the assassinationin Feb. 2005 of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, the Lebanesepeople revolted against Syrian interference in their country. Thebrave and persistent demonstrations of the Cedars Revolution forcedSyria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. The failure of the UnitedNations and the international community to keep pressure on theSyrian regime encouraged Syria to creep back in through the backdoor.
The lessons just of these past two years are crystal clear:pressuring Syria works; acquiescing to Syria does not. And yet, theBaker-Hamilton group chooses acquiescence. When Syria sins, forceIsrael to make concessions, the ISG recommends. If there is logichere, it is not of the sort to make Americans proud.
Instead, the UnitedStates should make the Syrian regime understand that it will pay areal price for its transgressions. Serious economic sanctions onSyria for its continued support of Hezbollah, in defiance of UNSecurity Council resolution 1701, would have a devastating impact onthe minority Alouite regime. And targeted military strikes on Syrianborder outposts and military units caught red-handed aiding Iraqiinsurgents would send a clear warning to Syria’s militaryleaders. If Syria did not get the message, the United States couldstep up the pressure by targeted air strikes on Damascus safehouseswhere Iraqi insurgent leaders continue to hide.
Syria has always backeddown when challenged. If Mr. Baker were truly the “realist”he claims to be, he would acknowledge this and propose policiesaccordingly.
The Islamic Republic ofIran, however, is made of different stuff. This is a regime that overthe past twenty-seven years has been willing to pay a tremendouslyhigh price in blood and treasure to pursue its radical policies.Since the 1979 revolution, the United States has repeatedly attemptedto “influence the behavior” of the regime, withoutsuccess.
As I wroteinthese pages just last month,the Baker-Hamilton proposal is a warmed rehash of the same failedpolicy we’ve been trying since 1979.
There is only oneapproach that will get the attention of the Tehran’srevolutionary and clerical leaders; and this is the one approach thatBaker and Hamilton – and the foreign policy Establishment -have rejected: support for regime change.
This is the oneapproach that the United States and its allies have never tried.Short of an all-out U.S. military assault on Iran, it is the onlyapproach that can avoid a future Persian Gulf region dominated by aradical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons. Sayingpretty-please, as the Baker-Hamilton group proposed, just isn’tgoing to work.
Empowering Iranians tochange their regime will be costly. From having worked with opponentsto the Iranian regime over the past twenty years, and studied therequirements of opposition groups currently working inside Iran, Ibelieve the United States should be prepared to commit a minimum of$300 million over an initial six month period if we are to have anyhope of a successful outcome.
The very first step must be the appointment by the President of aSpecial Envoy for Iran, with full presidential authority to convene aloya jirga type meeting of several hundred prominent Iranianleaders. The majority of those able to attend such a meeting will ofnecessity come from the diaspora; some will come secretly from theinside.
That meeting shouldfocus on establishing a broad declaration of principles around whichthe various opposition factions can unite, and then electing anexecutive committee that will include authorized spokespersons forthe pro-freedom movement. (Much of the ground work for such a broadmeeting of Iranians has already been accomplished over the past twoyears, thanks to the Iranians themselves).
Over the next sixmonths, the following tasks must be accomplished:
Ä¢ Draftinga detailed game plane for organizing massive non-violent protestsagainst the regime in Tehran. This game plan must include strategiesfor neutralizing the Revolutionary Guards, the bassij corps, andparamilitary gangs loyal to extremists in the current regime, and forpreventing the Islamic-Marxist Mujahedin Khalq, which worked with theregime during the early years of the revolution, from exploiting thesituation and seizing power in a putsch. It must also include astrategy for providing financial support to striking workers andprofessionals;
Ä¢ Specificpolicy recommendations for the United States and our allies, so wecan best leverage tools available to governments and internationalorganizations for delegitimizing and destabilizing the Tehran regime.(The U.S. Department of the Treasury hasmade a modest starthere).
Ä¢ Identify,contact, and train key operations officers on the ground in Iran;
Ä¢ Identifyand pre-position secure communications and other equipment needed tocoordinate operations inside Iran; and
Ä¢ Establisha finance committee tasked with harnessing the tremendous resourcesof the Iranian diaspora, who have withheld major support to thepro-freedom movement because they rightly judged that the movementlacked U.S. support.
Broadcasting must be an integral part of any comprehensive politicalplan to challenge the legitimacy of the Iranian regime and promotenon-violent regime change. However, none of the $300 million fundshould go to expanding the Persian language service of Voice ofAmerica or Radio Farda, the Persian service of Radio FreeEurope/Radio Liberty. Both have failed utterly to live up to the goalfor which they were established.
Rather than communicatean American viewpoint during Iran’s proxy war against Israelthis past summer, for example, VOA television sent reporters toBeirut to interview top Hezbollah leaders – the same Hezbollahleaders Iranian state television was treating as rock stars.
As for Radio Farda (“Tomorrow”),established to be a “surrogate” for the free mediaIranians could not access inside their own country, it became alaughing stock by championing Iran’s failed reformistpresident, Mohammad Khatami.
Since Ahmadinejad tookover as president in 2005, Radio Farda has adopted the “music-first”model of Westwood One and become simply irrelevant. Both are a wasteof U.S. taxpayer dollars and should be downsized or eliminatedaltogether.
Instead, funding shouldbe provided to private Iranian broadcasters who understand thepolitical thirst of their compatriots and know how to package acompelling message in a professional format. The allotment of thebroadcasting budget should be determined by the Executive Committee,with a preference to pluralism and professionalism.
The U.S. intelligencecommunity can play a support role in this effort, but should not takethe lead. The last thing we need is to ask the Central IntelligenceAgency to organize the Iranian opposition.
On the contrary, muchof this program can – and must – be accomplished overtly.Having the President of the United States openly support theaspirations of the Iranian people, at the same time devoting $300million to back the effort, will have a tremendous impact onpro-democracy forces inside Iran, without yet putting lives atrisk.
At the end of theinitial six month period, the President can then decide if hebelieves the program is viable. If so, he can pull the trigger on theplan devised by the pro-freedom groups in coordination with hisSpecial Envoy. The U.S. will need to commit another $500 million orso to the effort of organizing and supporting the massive non-violentprotest movement throughout Iran. This will be supplemented byanother $500 million or more raised from the Iranian diaspora.
This is expensive, forsure. But it is far less costly than the alternatives of facing anuclear-armed Iran, or having to send in U.S. troops to prevent Iranfrom deploying or firing nuclear weapons.
The Baker-Hamiltonapproach of engaging the terror-masters brings great risks and fewrewards. It sends a clear message that terrorism, even conductedagainst the world’s sole superpower, is a strategy that works.Engagement with Iran and Syria will foster more terror, not curtailit.¬Ý
Furthermore, engaging regimes that systematically repress their ownpeople and seek to destroy a bold democratic experiment on theirborders, sends a clear message to pro-democracy forces inside thosecountries that their efforts can never succeed.
In one simple stroke,the Baker-Hamilton approach will have emboldened our enemies, anddeterred our potential allies. And yet, for reasons that only thechattering classes can explain, this goes by the name “realism.”
Supporting regimechange by Iranians, while containing Syria, not only makes the beststrategic sense for America. It is the right thing todo.¬Ý
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