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Opinion

No.1 US priority in Middle East: regime change in Iran

Change in Iran would transform the region as a whole and is a goal on which virtually all US allies agree. So why is Obama so reticent to take a strong stance? Freedom cannot be won through timidity. Here are several key steps for a US-led effort to help make the regime crack.

By Chuck Freilich / April 27, 2011



Boston

The popular uprisings sweeping the Middle East are breathtaking and apparently far from over. After decades of paralysis and ossification, the entire Middle Eastern landscape is changing before our eyes.

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With the rapidity of events unfolding throughout the region, attention has been diverted from Iran. But Iran has all the same elements that have brought about the uprisings in the Arab world – even more so.

Iran’s burgeoning young population is as large as anywhere in the region and actually far more educated and involved in globalization and worldwide social and political trends. As with the restless young populations of other parts of the region, Iran’s youth suffer from the same dire unemployment, lack of opportunity, and suffocating oppression.

Regime change in Iran should be the No.1 priority in the Middle East today and is an issue on which virtually all US allies, in the region and beyond, can agree. Everyone wants to see the Iranian regime go. Change in Iran would transform the region as a whole, on the political, socio-economic, and strategic-military levels. It would, indeed, portend a new Mideast.

Instead of continuing to harbor futile hopes of engagement with Tehran, which the Obama administration itself acknowledges will probably not work, what is needed is a US-led effort, both public and behind the scenes, to make the regime crack. Regime change in Iran can only come from within, from its people; it cannot be fomented from the outside, but it can be aided and abetted, nourished, and given the encouragement and support which may make it possible.

Key steps to crack the regime

I offered a more detailed version of this argument in a recent column published on Harvard's Belter Center website. Here are some of the key measures I think are warranted:

• President Obama should make a clear call for the people of Iran to rise up against the regime, not the half-hearted and indirect expressions of support for change expressed so far. This should be combined with a vision of a new and better future for Iran, following regime change, including a rewarding relationship with the United States. Mr. Obama is understandably reticent to issue such a call; an uprising may be crushed brutally. But freedom cannot be won through timidity, and there may never be a better opportunity. US moral leadership is important to Iranian young people who, unlike the regime, are commonly very pro-American and who so deeply hope that the winds of change in the region will sweep Iran as well.

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