The Real Iran Policy Debate

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The political wrangling over the usefulness of negotiations with Tehran has exposed the absence of a realistic policy which would effectively defuse the mullahs' multi-pronged threats to Iraq as well as regional and global peace. The real debate is, and should be, about understanding the true nature of Iran's ruling regime and devising policies accordingly.

To be sure, since 1979, when the ayatollahs came to power in Iran, successive administrations, Republican and Democrat alike, have tried one approach after another in search of an effective way to deal with this regime — the first of its kind in modern times. An array of policies, from 'unilateral concessions' to 'critical dialogue,' and from 'constructive engagement' to 'containment,' was tested out against this policy conundrum. They either proved futile or backfired, resulting in a more brazen regime. Now, almost three decades later, the West is back at square one.

The core reality — never fully grasped in Washington — is that the Tehran regime is innately and structurally incapable of change or even reform. It is a terror-sponsoring, theocratic tyranny, which thrives on fascist-like oppression at home and the export of terror and fundamentalism abroad. This is not a speculative statement; Tehran has repeatedly demonstrated its incapacity and unwillingness to resolve outstanding issues through negotiations or incentive-centric diplomacy. Since 1979, Tehran has torpedoed virtually every meaningful pledge it has made to its foreign interlocutors.

In an opinion piece for the San Jose Mercury News, U.S. Congressman Bob Filner (D-Calif.), co-chair of the bipartisan U.S. Congressional Human Rights and Democracy Caucus, and Lord Robin Corbett, a senior member of the House of Lords from the British Labor Party and chairman of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom, warned of the consequences of the lack of a coherent and sound policy vis-à-vis Tehran. They wrote: “Launching a military attack on Iran would be a tragic mistake, but it is an error almost as grave to think that continued pacification of the Iranian regime is the only alternative to war. It is time to recognize that the Iranian regime regards concessions not as gestures to be reciprocated in kind, but as signs of weakness to be exploited.”

Fortunately, there is bi-partisan appreciation of the seriousness of the threat posed by Tehran. The designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity by both the House and the Senate last year is a case in point. More needs to be done, however, and with some urgency, for the ayatollahs in Iran are not sitting idle. Every day of every month up to January 2009 and beyond, their mischief is and going to be taking a heavy toll in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Afghanistan.

Just last week, Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who until recently served as a senior adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus in Iraq, told an audience in Washington that Iran has trained Iraqi militia members as snipers and organized them in "assassination cells" to kill Iraqi officials opposed to Iranian influence. He emphasized that Tehran's terrorist meddling in Iraq is "obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it," and should no longer be "alleged." Meanwhile in Lebanon, Tehran's doctrine of war by proxy has caused more bloodshed and brought that country to the brink of civil war.

Although in recent months Washington has become more outspoken toward Tehran, particularly in respect of its “destructive role” in Iraq, as the overall policy still falls far short. Most importantly, it lacks a due recognition of the central role Iran's democratic opposition plays in bringing about the kind of changes which will ensure a nuclear-free Iran at peace with its own citizens and the outside world.

Filner and Corbett wrote in the San Jose Mercury News: “Western policies toward Iran have failed because they ignore the immense power of the disenchanted people of Iran. Today, the Iranian people are imbued with democratic aspirations and a well-organized resistance movement. Both pragmatism and principle argue that we should be helping to empower the Iranian people in their brave and determined struggle against the world's most repressive government." They added, “By branding the MEK [main Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq] as a terrorist group, the West hobbled one of the strongest advocates for domestic reform and the organization that blew the whistle on Iran's clandestine nuclear weapon and missile development programs.”

A landmark ruling by the Court of Appeal in Britain on May 7 could herald a new approach to Tehran which, if pursued promptly and effectively, might have a dramatic impact on efforts to bring lasting peace to Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan and the rest of the region. The Court of Appeal ruled that the MEK, whose “purpose is the replacement of the theocracy with a democratically elected secular government in Iran,” is “not concerned in terrorism.” The Court ordered the British government to promptly remove the MEK from its terrorist list.

As Washington increasingly grapples with what to do with the mullahs' continuing intransigence, policymakers need to take a close look at the recent ruling of the UK Court of Appeal. The delisting of the MEK in the US would untie the hands of mullahs' existential threat. It would also address the moral dilemma of appeasing a fascist theocracy.

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Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis (Palgrave: February 2008).

Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.

Until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.