U.S. Adopts Regime Change Policy Toward Iran—Oh, Wait ...

Yesterday afternoon The Washington Post reported evidence that the Obama administration's policy toward Iran has become one of "regime collapse." The Post quoted an unidentified "senior U.S. intelligence official" as saying that the goal is to "create enough hate and discontent at the street level" so that the people will turn against their government. Here's the headline:


Then yesterday evening the Post took that story down and replaced it with an amended version. Now the story, paraphrasing that same official, described the policy as building "public discontent that will help compel the government to abandon an alleged nuclear arms program."  Here's the new headline:


Presumably the Post got a call from an unidentified senior U.S. official or two in between headlines.

But it wouldn't surprise me if the story was closer to the truth the first time around. Only last week a State Department spokesperson had turned heads (the heads of Iran policy nerds, at least) by speaking of the "effort to tighten the noose on their regime"--a departure from traditional State Department imagery.  

To be sure, it would be ironic if many people in Washington were championing regime change. The last time America made a big bet on regime change was in invading Iraq. And we wound up with a regime that (a) told us to get the hell out of the country; (b) started behaving thuggishly toward officials of the wrong sectarian persuasion (Sunni); and (c) showed signs of becoming a valuable ally of one of our adversaries--Iran!

On the other hand, it would also be ironic if many people in Washington were championing war with Iran, after the Iraq fiasco, yet many people are. In fact, these Iran hawks include many of the indefatigable activists who pushed so effectively for war with Iraq. And, for better or worse, they remain influential in Washington policy circles. And some of them favor a policy of regime change.

In any event, we know that sanctions are being felt acutely by ordinary Iranians, and that we're moving toward much more draconian sanctions, including an oil embargo that, if effective, would amount to a chokehold. Moreover, even in the amended version of the Post story, that official is still quoted as saying that one goal is to "create hate and discontent at the street level." So it would be good for someone to provide reasons to be confident that regime change will work out better in Iran than it has worked out in Iraq. 

1) The "noose" quote above has been edited. I originally used a slightly less pointed "noose" quote ("...tightening the noose on Iran economically") that was uttered last week by that same State Department spokesperson, but then someone pointed out that the quote that had really turned heads was the one I've replaced it with.
2) Whether significantly or not, that State Department spokesperson formerly worked in Vice President Cheney's foreign policy shop, a fact that at the time of her appointment to the Obama administration was noted with alarm by blogger Eric Martin.]

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Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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