Trump’s New Iran Strategy Seen As a Push for Regime Change

Patrick Goodenough | May 22, 2018 | 4:27am EDT
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Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hasan Rouhani. (Photo: Office of the Supreme Leader)

( – Some prominent supporters of the Iran nuclear deal say the Trump administration’s proposed campaign of “unprecedented financial pressure” designed to change Iran’s conduct is in fact aimed at bringing about regime change.

Responding to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech Monday outlining the plan, National Iranian American Council (NIAC) vice president for policy Jamal Abdi said the administration was laying the groundwork for “a new Iraq-style regime change war in the Middle East.”

“The Trump administration is setting the stage for a war of choice with Iran, with Mike Pompeo offering a smokescreen of diplomacy to distract from the administration’s pursuit of Iraq-style regime change,” said Abdi.

“The Trump administration is repeating the Iraq war playbook, down to lying about Iran’s nuclear program and eschewing a genuine multilateral approach with Europe and the U.N. Security Council powers for a so-called coalition of the willing.”

NIAC advocates engagement with Tehran and strongly supports the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal from which Trump withdrew this month.

On Twitter, Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group, likened Pompeo to National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has long called for regime change in countries like Iran and North Korea and is viewed by critics as a hardliner.

“For those who were arguing that Sec Pompeo has changed and is now trying to give diplomacy a chance: he is as much as a regime changer as Bolton,” tweeted Vaez.

In his speech, Pompeo signaled plans for “the strongest sanctions in history,” and listed 12 major changes in Iranian behavior needed if it is “to gain acceptance in the international community.”

These related to its nuclear program as well as ballistic missile development, support for terrorism and terrorist groups, military adventurism in the region and other activities.

Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution, said in a statement the speech outlined not a strategy, “but rather a grab bag of wishful thinking wrapped in a thinly veiled exhortation for regime change in Iran.”

Pompeo did not openly call for regime change in the speech, although while answering a question afterwards about whether he had “a timeframe for getting all this done,” he alluded to it.

He could not give a time frame, Pompeo said, but added that the Iranian people would ultimately “decide the timeline.”

“At the end of the day, the Iranian people will get to make a choice about their leadership,” he said.

Some experts argued that the administration has little chance of winning the international support it seeks to pressurize Iran.

“Pompeo’s speech is fantasy wrapped in bluster,” tweeted Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, which lobbied extensively for the JCPOA. “Absent is any plan, any feasible diplomatic way to build the coalition of which he speaks. He is defending the indefensible: the reckless violation of the strongest anti-nuclear pact in a generation.”

“These are not the objectives of an agreement,” said Richard Nephew, non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in reference to Pompeo’s 12 points. “They are the administration’s terms for Iran’s surrender. And they will be seen as such by our allies and erstwhile negotiating partners. This speech will make the hard job of getting partners to sign on to sanctions impossible.”

By contrast, Foundation for Defense of Democracies CEO Mark Dubowitz and Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Ray Takeyh called it “one of the most important speeches on Iran ever delivered by a secretary of state.”

Writing in Foreign Policy, they said the administration has laid out a post-JCPOA strategy “that is expansive in its ambitions, justified in its tactics, and judicious in its assessments of Iran.”

Dubowitz and Takeyh said the strategy laid out in the speech would be “sure to face criticism in the echo chamber.”

“All arms control agreements create their own constituency,” they wrote, “and the Iran nuclear deal has a powerful one in the form of those in the United States for whom this was the only Obama foreign-policy legacy that they could try to defend with a straight face.”

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