It is a myth that, prior to President Obama’s outreach, that diplomacy had never been tried with Iran. (I detail past engagement in this congressional testimony). There should be bipartisan consensus the diplomacy with Iran has now not worked.
Meanwhile, the continued protests are important. They show that the regime can no longer intimidate the Iranian people. As in the last months of the Shah’s rule, it has become a badge of honor to be sent to prison. Iran is a timber box; the question is now the degree to which the Revolutionary Guards can put out the sparks before they ignite.
The White House need not be on the sidelines. There are two issues on which President Obama and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair can focus.
First for Admiral Blair: Does the intelligence community understand the nature of factionalization within the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian security apparatus? For years, U.S. intelligence agencies have focused too much on factional politics within the Iranian government system, never recognizing that political factions don’t matter when the Supreme Leader makes all the major decisions. But, if regime change will only come when the Revolutionary Guards — or some untis within defect, then what can be done to exploit factional divisions to make this more likely?
And for President Obama: You have been advised that, given the stranglehold on society that the Revolutionary Guards have achieved, it is impossible to know if any post-Khamenei, post-Islamic Republic will be any better and you have been advised, therefore, that it is best to sit on the sidelines. This has colored your reactive, first-do-no-harm approach which your administration has preached since the June 12, 2009 elections. This is not leadership, nor is it wise. The questions you should ask your advisers are first, “What would we like Iran to look like after regime change?” and second, “What can we do now to maximize the likelihood of that outcome?”