US must actively work for regime change in Iran

As sanctions take hold, Iranians are more dissatisfied with their government than ever. The time is right for the US and other democracies to actively support freedom seeking Iranians and regime change. That would also solve the crisis over Iran's nuclear program.

Raheb Homavandi/Reuters/file
A woman enters a currency exchange shop in Tehran's business district October 2011. Iran's rial currency hit a historic low against the dollar this week, as international sanctions against Iran take hold. Op-ed contributor Reza Kahlili writes: 'Iran’s intelligence ministry is warning the leaders of the Islamic regime that due to deteriorating economic conditions, the possibility of a popular uprising in the coming months is great.'

Iran’s intelligence ministry is warning the leaders of the Islamic regime that due to deteriorating economic conditions, the possibility of a popular uprising in the coming months is great. The ministry has urged the regime to make appropriate decisions in light of that.

The secret report, according to the Iranian Internet site Kaleme, the official site of the Green protest movement, specifically warned of riots by hungry masses on the outskirts of Iran’s major cities.

This presents a great opportunity for the West, particularly the United States, to end its crisis with Iran – from the clash over Iran’s nuclear program to its hostile relations with Tehran generally. If only the US finally understood that the key to solving the Iran problem is to help Iranians with their aspirations for freedom and democracy.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a Sept. 4 televised address to the nation, warned that sanctions enforced by the West over Iran’s nuclear program have crippled the country’s oil exports and banking. And he confessed that the sanctions have caused problems for the government to provide basic necessities such as meat and other goods to the people.

“It is an all-out, hidden, heavy war,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said, though he promised that the country will succeed in circumventing the sanctions.

The urgency of Ahmadinejad’s message underscores the increasing anger of many Iranians that the country is being mismanaged, but they are unaware that conditions are going to get much worse. The government wants to prepare them for such a scenario.

The Iranian people, who by the millions came out in 2009 voicing their resentment with the regime and hoping for change, found no support from the West. President Obama may have condemned the regime's brutal crackdown on protesters, but he turned his back on them when he chose negotiations with Tehran rather than directly supporting the aspirations of a nation.

But it is not too late.

Today, the only viable solution in securing peace and stability in the region is regime change in Iran. To achieve that, the US and other democracies must help the Iranian people – not with arms but with support and technological advancements to inform, unify, and enable the millions who are awaiting American leadership.

By support I mean an all-out effort to help the opposition promote civil disobedience, peaceful protests, and national strikes in Iran. The West should be encouraging defections from the regime, just as it has with Syria, and offering safe harbor. Many officers in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and even diplomats are looking for a way out, only to find no visible support. The West should also support the formation of a government in exile, as many in the opposition are now coming together to create a national council that can guide Iran’s changes from within.

Meanwhile, the regime is launching a national Internet to cut its population off from the rest of the world and to block the social networks that were so widely used during the 2009 uprising. That makes western technical assistance imperative – digital radio broadcasting, satellite phones, and secure “proxy” servers for access to the Internet.

The timing for an Iranian Spring could not be better. The Kaleme website reported that the government’s economic commission has concluded that the country will run out of its foreign currency reserves in the next six months and that inflation plaguing the Iranian currency will see another steep rise. This week the rial hit a record low against the dollar.

Several Iranian parliamentarians in recent days have warned against price increases on common goods and have requested that the government delay its decision to remove consumer subsidies, saying such action would exacerbate the worsening situation. Even the ayatollahs have voiced fears of a backlash by the people.

The regime dreads another uprising such as the one in 2009 in the wake of the fraudulent election of Ahmadinejad. Leaders worry not only about those who resent this regime, who are many, but those who can no longer feed their families. Although such an uprising could see the end of the mullahs’ regime in Iran, the leadership adamantly pursues its nuclear program with the expectation the program will make the regime untouchable in expanding its ideology and power regionally.

In preparation for an uprising, the regime has formed thousands of fast-response units within the Basij paramilitary forces and the Revolutionary Guard to suppress protesters, according to news reports.

It is clear that sanctions are affecting the Iranian economy, but it’s also clear that the regime is determined to move ahead with its nuclear program despite UN resolutions and sanctions. The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency released Aug. 30 indicated an expansion of Iranian enrichment activity and stonewalling of inspections of the site where possible nuclear weapons experiments are said to have taken place.

If the West were to support regime change in Iran, of course Tehran would halt negotiations over its nuclear program. No loss there, as talks have yielded nothing so far. Indeed, the choice now is between external support for regime change from within, or a military strike – most likely by Israel – to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.

With the ayatollahs out, the nuclear-bomb question becomes moot. The US, along with other democracies, must take advantage of the current climate and openly support the Iranian people’s prayers to live free. Washington should not turn its back this time.

Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and author of the award winning book “A Time to Betray” (Simon & Schuster, 2010). He serves on the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and the advisory board of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI).

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