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President Trump on Memorial Day said the United States doesn’t seek regime change in Iran. Well, why not?
On March 8, 1983, Ronald Reagan made a speech in which he called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”
“Isn’t that foolish?” I thought. “Of course, the Soviet Union is evil. And it’s an empire. But what’s to be gained by that provocative language? Why poke the bear in the eye? At the very least it’s undiplomatic, and the president is the chief steward of our foreign policy.”
A couple of years later, The Washington Times sent me to the Ethics and Public Policy Center to interview a representative of Poland’s Solidarity trade union movement, which had been outlawed by the Communist government. Jerzy Milewski, a physicist who had studied at Stanford and MIT, had established the equivalent of a Solidarity embassy in Brussels called the Coordinating Office Abroad. I was among a handful of reporters who listened to the representative and asked questions. No one mentioned Reagan’s remark, but Milewski (who died in 1997) volunteered that it had given Solidarity activists a tremendous boost. Words could not express how important it was to them, he said.
This was an eye-opener and a turning point for me. I realized I had been wrong. Five years after that interview, Poland was free and the Soviet Union was no more. How did that happen?
Just as the State Department and the Europeans recoil today from the idea of regime change in Iran, those same elements opposed helping Solidarity after the national liberation movement arose spontaneously in Poland in August 1980 and the Communist government drove it underground with the declaration of martial law in December 1981. Yet the CIA, under the leadership of President Reagan and Director William J. Casey, undertook a modest effort that ultimately was successful.
Reagan famously rejected the containment of Communism as too defensive and passive. Instead he pushed for rollback and liberation. AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland also committed to assist Solidarity in every possible way. But foreign policy “realists” who favored détente with the Soviet Union did what they could to sabotage these efforts.
Exercising martial law, the Communist government confiscated Solidarity’s property, seized its funds, closed its offices, and imprisoned many of its leaders.
“American trade-union funds and millions of dollars from the National Endowment for Democracy . . . were channeled through the AFL-CIO’s Free Trade Union Institute,” wrote Adrian Karatnycky in the Washington Post. “The money underwrote shipments of scores of printing presses, dozens of computers, hundreds of mimeograph machines, thousands of gallons of printer’s ink, hundreds of thousands of stencils, video cameras and radio broadcasting equipment.” The funds also “helped the families of imprisoned trade-union activists and defrayed the huge fines that the Polish authorities were leveling against anyone caught with clandestine union literature.”
This is not the place to catalogue all the gruesome human rights violations that make modern Iran, arguably, even more evil than the former Soviet Union. And, as Lee Smith has written, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ultimately is responsible “for Iran’s expansionist foreign policy, which includes arms and drug smuggling as well as terrorism, now reaching beyond the Middle East to Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa.”
Many Iranians are dissatisfied with or even hate the theocratic regime under which they live. Alarmists warn of the dangers of war with the Islamic Republic, but no war is necessary. It’s in America’s interest to help Iranian dissidents just as we helped Polish nationalists in the 1980s.
In the application of “non-kinetic specifics,” we are limited only by our imagination and our inertia. The possibilities are endless, the risks are small, and the potential payoffs are high.
The State Department and the Europeans will squeal. So what? This isn’t neo-imperialism. It’s assisted self-determination. Conservatives criticized Barack Obama for not giving at least moral support to the Iranian people when they rose up in protest against the rigged election of 2009. How can they square that indignation with a policy of “no regime change” by a nominally conservative administration 10 years later?
Ronald Reagan’s Cold War strategy was: “We win. They lose.” Let this be the U.S. strategy in dealing with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Photo Credit: Nicolas Maeterlinck/AFP/Getty Images