All of these are necessary, but Romney should go farther. Ahmadinejad’s final term ends in less than a year, and he has never been the issue anyway: In the Islamic Republic, the president is about style, not substance. The supreme leader shapes the policy, and he — in addition to Ahmadinejad — should be targeted by the Romney administration for incitement to genocide. It was Khamenei who, for example, declared that “the cancerous tumor called Israel must be uprooted” and, a month later, that “the perpetual mission of Iran is the elimination of Israel.” Genocide scholars and members of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda have determined that the persistent use of dehumanizing medical metaphors — such as likening a people to malignancy — meets the legal threshold of incitement to genocide.
Nor will “standing for voices of dissent within Iran” be enough. Solidarity is nice, but Iranian activists need cash. Failure to provide aid to Iranian civil society out of fear that the regime will stigmatize its recipients is misguided, because the regime accuses all opponents of foreign ties whether they receive money or not.
The best hope for civil-society empowerment lies not in any Iranian politician or in the Green Movement that arose from the June 2009 protests, but rather in Iran’s nascent trade-union movement. As a rule, the Iranian people are far more moderate than their clerical leaders. In 2005, Tehran bus driver Mansour Osanlou organized his colleagues and forced the regime to recognize the Islamic Republic’s first independent union. New unions have sprouted, especially in the oil-rich Khuzistan province. Osanlou is now in prison, but his movement survives. At a minimum, every dollar Iranian unions force the regime to spend on ordinary people is one dollar not invested in nuclear technology and weaponry. Labor unrest in Iran’s oil fields could be far more effective than sanctioning oil, and a strategy relying on it would not be beholden to Russian or Chinese goodwill. The Islamic Revolution succeeded in 1979 largely because strikes paralyzed the country. Ending the revolution the way it began would be poetic justice.
Romney was right when he observed that “when the world’s most despotic regimes secure the world’s most destructive weapons, peace often gives way to oppression, to violence, or to devastating war.” But to focus only on denying Tehran nuclear weapons misses half the problem: Permanent peace requires ending Khamenei’s despotic regime.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) serves as Khamenei’s Praetorian guard. U.S. diplomats and intelligence professionals tend to ignore factionalism within the IRGC. This is policy malpractice, first because it is essential to understand who would really control Iran’s nuclear weapons, and second because regime change will happen only when the IRGC collapses. The better a Romney administration understands the IRGC’s weakness, the more Romney’s team can exploit its fissures.
Americans have become accustomed to considering Iran an enemy. This is a tragedy. The Iranian people have suffered tremendously under their clerical dictatorship, which, in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, has driven a country once on the verge of becoming a world economic power headlong into the Third World. As Islamist populism threatens to engulf Egyptians, Tunisians, Syrians, and Turks, the Iranian people’s suffering has immunized them to those who would use religious rhetoric to further their own ambitions at the expense of freedom. Free from clerical rule, Iran could become a pillar for liberalism. Regime downfall could free Iraq from the terror of Iranian militias and end Tehran’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s murderous dictatorship in Syria. Absent Iranian patronage, Hezbollah would starve, enabling Lebanon to reclaim its place as the Arab Riviera. And while nationalism would thrive in a post-revolutionary Iran, a successor regime would be far less likely to hold the world’s economy hostage.
No revolution is permanent. With the right Iran policy, Romney has an opportunity to do more for Middle East peace than all his predecessors combined.
– Mr. Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Istitute and a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School.