Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s speech against the Kirk-Menendez bill, which would slap new sanctions on Iran in the event that it cheats on the interim nuclear deal that takes effect Monday, has triggered controversy with her comments about Israel (“we cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war”). But the deeper problem with her argument is its fundamentally illogical argument against regime change in Iran.
Feinstein argues that the Geneva deal is a sign that Iran is willing to “change.” But she opposes actual “regime change,” she says, charging that supporters of the Kirk-Menendez legislation will scare Iranian hard-liners: “the United States is not interested in nuclear diplomacy–we are interested in regime change.” Oddly, in her argument that Iran can “change,” she cites Imperial Japan, Hitler’s Germany, Franco’s Spain, South Africa, and Argentina as countries that changed their destructive path. None of these regimes reformed themselves.
Feinstein seems to think that Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is the face of reform, saying that he supports “repairing Iran’s relationship with the West.” That is not how Rouhani himself describes his achievement. He tweeted on Tuesday that the U.S. and other nations had “surrendered to [the] Iranian nation’s will.”
Kenneth Pollack discusses the potential for “regime change” in Iran extensively in his recent book–which argues against war with Iran and in favor of “containment.” He notes that the U.S. missed a major opportunity for “regime change” in the pro-democracy protests of 2009, which was not only a strategic mistake but also morally “reprehensible.” The reason, he says, is that the administration fails to understand the concept:
“From the start, the Obama administration has been working under the assumption that the pursuit of regime change and the pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran are mutually exclusive. They have assumed that if Khamene’i and the hardliners believe that the United States is determined to overthrow them, they will see no reason to strike a deal with Washington…Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support this point of view.”
Pollack notes that the only time that the Iranian regime has ever agreed to compromise has been when it has felt directly threatened. He suggests that the emergence of strong domestic opposition to the Iranian regime has made regime change a viable policy goal–if one that must be pursued carefully, using internal Iranian allies. The U.S., he says, should “explore” opportunities for regime change, alongside sanctions and diplomacy.
Incredibly, Feinstein actually thinks that it is the U.S., not Iran, that must prove its ability to abide by the Geneva agreement, ignoring the fact that the Kirk-Menendez bill does not actually violate the agreement, and presenting the reactions of the Iranian regime as if they would be natural and rational responses to American aggression, rather than calculated, provocative tactics that the regime has been using against the U.S. all along.
Feinstein cites her personal relationship with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to back up her arguments. That is the same Zarif who, on Monday, visited the gravesite of the Lebanese terrorist who killed hundreds of U.S. Marines and diplomats in Beirut in 1983. It is rather alarming that the chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence has no grasp of the evil of the Iranian regime–and the need for “regime change,” deal or no deal.