Regime Change in Iran? The Real Motivations Behind Sanctions
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Let's start with red lines. Here it is, Washington’s ultimate red line, straight from the lion’s mouth. Only last week Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said of the Iranians, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they're trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that's what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is do not develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us.”
How strange, the way those red lines continue to retreat. Once upon a time, the red line for Washington was “enrichment” of uranium. Now, it’s evidently an actual nuclear weapon that can be brandished. Keep in mind that, since 2005, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has stressed that his country is not seeking to build a nuclear weapon. The most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran from the U.S. Intelligence Community has similarly stressed that Iran is not, in fact, developing a nuclear weapon (as opposed to the breakout capacity to build one someday).
What if, however, there is no “red line,” but something completely different? Call it the petrodollar line.
Banking on Sanctions?
Let’s start here: In December 2011, impervious to dire consequences for the global economy, the U.S. Congress -- under all the usual pressures from the Israel lobby (not that it needs them) -- foisted a mandatory sanctions package on the Obama administration (100 to 0 in the Senate and with only 12 “no” votes in the House). Starting in June, the U.S. will have to sanction any third-country banks and companies dealing with Iran’s Central Bank, which is meant to cripple that country’s oil sales. (Congress did allow for some “exemptions.”)
The ultimate target? Regime change -- what else? -- in Tehran. The proverbial anonymous U.S. official admitted as much in the Washington Post, and that paper printed the comment. (“The goal of the U.S. and other sanctions against Iran is regime collapse, a senior U.S. intelligence official said, offering the clearest indication yet that the Obama administration is at least as intent on unseating Iran’s government as it is on engaging with it.”) But oops! The newspaper then had to revise the passage to eliminate that embarrassingly on-target quote. Undoubtedly, this “red line” came too close to the truth for comfort.
Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen believed that only a monster shock-and-awe-style event, totally humiliating the leadership in Tehran, would lead to genuine regime change -- and he was hardly alone. Advocates of actions ranging from air strikes to invasion (whether by the U.S., Israel, or some combination of the two) have been legion in neocon Washington. (See, for instance, the Brookings Institution’s 2009 report Which Path to Persia.)
Yet anyone remotely familiar with Iran knows that such an attack would rally the population behind Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards. In those circumstances, the deep aversion of many Iranians to the military dictatorship of the mullahtariat would matter little.
Besides, even the Iranian opposition supports a peaceful nuclear program. It’s a matter of national pride.
Iranian intellectuals, far more familiar with Persian smoke and mirrors than ideologues in Washington, totally debunk any war scenarios. They stress that the Tehran regime, adept in the arts of Persian shadow play, has no intention of provoking an attack that could lead to its obliteration. On their part, whether correctly or not, Tehran strategists assume that Washington will prove unable to launch yet one more war in the Greater Middle East, especially one that could lead to staggering collateral damage for the world economy.