Politics & Policy

More Regime Change

An opening in Iran.

The battle for Iraq may still be far from over, but its impact is already sending shockwaves throughout the Middle East. Militarily, Washington’s early successes have put to rest any lingering doubts about U.S. capabilities or American resolve. But more significant still is the example set by Iraq’s impending liberation, and the accompanying realization that is taking root in the region — that Baghdad’s fall could foreshadow even greater change.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Iran. After 24 years of the Islamic Revolution, Iran is nothing short of a failed state, complete with double-digit unemployment, rampant corruption and mounting domestic repression. And economically, the fiscal policies of the ruling clergy have all but bankrupted Iran and turned it into an international pariah. All this despite the fact that its proven oil and natural gas reserves place Iran at the head of the class as a global energy producer.

Just as important is the fact that Iran is in the grip of a fundamental demographic and political transformation: with two-thirds of Iranians now estimated to be under the age of 30, the bulk of the country’s population has lived all of its life under the Revolution, and is distinctly aware of its deficiencies.

It is no wonder, then, that a groundswell of domestic opposition is emerging to the current regime. This was underscored last fall, when Iran’s parliament, in an effort to shore up the anti-Western policies of its leaders, commissioned a poll to study national attitudes toward the United States. The results were intended to be a resounding confirmation of Tehran’s antagonism to Washington, and a renewed mandate for the Islamic Republic’s foreign and domestic policies. But Iran’s leaders found out that they should be careful what they wish for: among some 1,500 Iranians, surveyed by no less than three different polling institutes, 74 percent supported the idea of dialogue with the United States, and nearly half affirmed that Washington’s attitudes toward Iran are “to some extent correct.”

Simultaneously, even the political consensus among Iran’s religious establishment has begun to crumble. Back in July, the Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri, a stalwart of the old regime, dropped a bombshell when he resigned from his post as the Imam of Isfahan. Taheri’s letter of resignation, circulated widely in the Iranian press, blasted the “rising unemployment, inflation, high cost of living, ailing economy, government corruption and addiction” plaguing Iran on the “failed” politics of the current regime. Since then, in further proof that the Islamic Republic is fast approaching a major crisis, other clerics have followed suit, publicly breaking ranks with the Iranian establishment and calling for sweeping political and social reforms.

For these elements, the campaign against Iraq, a manifestation of the Bush administration’s commitment to lasting change in the Middle East, is a much-needed shot in the arm. For Iran’s hardliners, however, Washington’s offensive poses an unprecedented challenge. Despite their growing marginalization, Tehran’s mullahs have embarked on an increasingly aggressive Iranian foreign policy course, one that includes a mounting focus on ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction and an expanded strategic relationship with the Kremlin. And for all of his public calls for a “dialogue of civilizations” with the West, Iran’s “reformist” president, Mohammed Khatami, has only aided and abetted these trends.

Now, the Iranian leadership, already coping with the fledging U.S.-backed Karzai government in Afghanistan, is becoming painfully aware that it could soon find itself pinioned between two newly-liberalizing, Western oriented governments — a development that would severely constrict its recently reinvigorated ambitions in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. Officials in Tehran also know full well that the example of a pluralistic post-Saddam Iraq could serve as a catalyst for change among Iran’s own increasingly restive population.

While the United States and its Coalition allies are currently focused on Saddam Hussein’s regime, policymakers in Washington should take stock of the fact that their gains there could decisively tip the scales in favor of democracy in Iraq’s eastern neighbor. And if it is serious about translating its achievements in Iraq into a larger regional strategy, the Bush administration should clearly articulate its commitment to change in Tehran.

When it does, the White House is likely to find no shortage of attention in the Islamic Republic.

Ilan Berman is vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.

Ilan Berman is the senior vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council.

Most Popular

The Secret Life of Joe Biden

In a classic episode of Seinfeld, Jerry is accused by his new girlfriend, a police officer, of being a fan of the tacky 1990s soap opera Melrose Place. When Jerry lies and denies it, she suggests putting him on a polygraph to find the truth. In an effort to beat the machine, Jerry seeks the advice of his ... Read More

The Secret Life of Joe Biden

In a classic episode of Seinfeld, Jerry is accused by his new girlfriend, a police officer, of being a fan of the tacky 1990s soap opera Melrose Place. When Jerry lies and denies it, she suggests putting him on a polygraph to find the truth. In an effort to beat the machine, Jerry seeks the advice of his ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Jared Kushner Was Right

Over the past several years, a new certainty was added to death and taxes: Jared Kushner would fail in his role as the administration’s Middle East point man. It caused considerable merriment among President Donald Trump’s critics (and even some of his well-wishers) when he put his son-in-law in charge of ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Jared Kushner Was Right

Over the past several years, a new certainty was added to death and taxes: Jared Kushner would fail in his role as the administration’s Middle East point man. It caused considerable merriment among President Donald Trump’s critics (and even some of his well-wishers) when he put his son-in-law in charge of ... Read More

The Consequences of Biden

If you have decided that another four years of Donald Trump would be intolerable, and the prospect of four more years of the dysfunctional Trump circus in the White House fills you with dread, fine. But approach the prospects of a Joe Biden presidency with clear eyes and no illusions. Electing Biden would move ... Read More

The Consequences of Biden

If you have decided that another four years of Donald Trump would be intolerable, and the prospect of four more years of the dysfunctional Trump circus in the White House fills you with dread, fine. But approach the prospects of a Joe Biden presidency with clear eyes and no illusions. Electing Biden would move ... Read More
U.S.

Zoomers and the Constitution

A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center compared generational views on key social and political issues, focusing on the similarities between Millennials and Generation Z. The topics probed include race relations, diversity, climate change, capitalism, socialism, and the role of government. This last item, ... Read More
U.S.

Zoomers and the Constitution

A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center compared generational views on key social and political issues, focusing on the similarities between Millennials and Generation Z. The topics probed include race relations, diversity, climate change, capitalism, socialism, and the role of government. This last item, ... Read More
Elections

Is the Biden Campaign Struggling?

On the menu today: a long, long list of Democrats warning that the Biden campaign may not be as strong as it looks in key states and among key demographics; another former White House staffer comes out and denounces the president, offering a hard lesson about how personnel is policy; and a long look at the ... Read More
Elections

Is the Biden Campaign Struggling?

On the menu today: a long, long list of Democrats warning that the Biden campaign may not be as strong as it looks in key states and among key demographics; another former White House staffer comes out and denounces the president, offering a hard lesson about how personnel is policy; and a long look at the ... Read More
Media

How American Journalism Died

In 2017, the liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University found that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative. The center found similarly negative Trump coverage at other major news outlets. The election year 2020 has only accelerated ... Read More
Media

How American Journalism Died

In 2017, the liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University found that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative. The center found similarly negative Trump coverage at other major news outlets. The election year 2020 has only accelerated ... Read More