JINSA President & CEO Michael Makovsky, PhD
and JINSA Director of Foreign Policy Jonathan Ruhe
on Iran Regime Collapse in
targeted killing of a mass murderer is a horrible opportunity to waste. On Jan.
3, a U.S. drone commendably killed the
mastermind of Iranian aggression, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, and upended Iranian
assumptions about declining American power in the Middle East. But this will, by
itself, neither restore U.S. deterrence nor roll back Iranian power. Instead,
the strike should be the opening salvo in a concerted strategy to bring about
regime collapse in Tehran.
its birth, the Islamic republic has waged war and spilled blood - of Americans,
Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, Israelis, Argentine Jews and Iranians, among many
others - with virtual impunity. Only the Israelis have consistently retaliated.
Iranian weapons in the hands of Iranian-backed groups killed
241 U.S. service members in Beirut in 1983 and more
than 600 in Iraq during the 2000s. Yet Iran was never held responsible,
which only emboldened its leadership.
the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, and especially after the 2015 nuclear
deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), Iran became confident
that the United States had neither the means nor the will to challenge it for
control of the Middle East. Enriched by the lifting of sanctions and unfreezing
of funds, and undeterred by weak U.S. pronouncements, Iran unleashed a
campaign for regional hegemony headed by Soleimani. The United States
this backdrop of U.S. passivity, Iran began a new, bolder series of provocations
last summer, culminating in the recent assault on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Unfortunately, President Trump initially displayed the same general reluctance
as his predecessors to punish Iran.
fired early that morning by a drone just outside the Baghdad airport
not only killed men responsible for Iran's reign of terror and regional
aggression. They also disproved Iran's belief in U.S. fecklessness and marked a
departure for an American president that has generally relied only on economic
sanctions to pressure Iran. As Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper stated
before the attack, "The game has changed." The shock and disruption
the Iranians will feel from the loss of their "shadow commander" and
the failure of their understanding of U.S. strategy cannot be overstated.
we should not overestimate how long this state of confusion will last.
will now set about determining just how much the game has actually changed. As
it did with its attacks last summer, Iran will probe the U.S. posture in the
Middle East, in a calculated fashion, until it is confident it understands the
new red lines.
change the game for good, the United States needs to demonstrate commitment to
boldly confront and roll back Iranian aggression. Trump did that in
a tweet on Saturday, warning of hitting 52 Iranian sites, but seemingly only
marginally expanding the red line: "Let this serve as a WARNING that if
Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets." That suggested that not
only Iran taking American lives will trigger U.S. retaliation, but also downing
a U.S. drone, which in June did
not trigger a military response. The red line does not seem to include key
energy assets of our Gulf Arab allies, which we have effectively pledged to
protect since President Carter, if not before. Iran will certainly test these
what of U.S. goals? Trump said on Friday he
opposes regime change. On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated
we seek "to convince the Iranian regime to behave like a normal
nation," a vague phrase he has used before.
Wednesday seeking a new and improved nuclear deal is also inadequate, if not
misguided. He correctly withdrew from the JCPOA, and Iran has said it will no
longer adhere to it. But a new acceptable deal is highly unlikely. Iran will
only consent to a new deal that includes the JCPOA's "sunset clause,"
which stipulates that restrictions on Tehran's nuclear program expire by 2030
and permits continued development of its ballistic missile program - both
nonstarters. Even negotiations on a new deal could prove perilous to U.S.
interests, because they almost certainly mean softening sanctions and weakening
the regionwide anti-Iran front, thereby reviving the fortunes of a Tehran regime
that is tottering in the face of widespread domestic and regional opposition.
truly loosen the regime's grip on power and on the region, the United States
must explicitly make regime collapse its policy. We don't mean "regime
change" through a U.S. ground invasion, such as Iraq in 2003, but the
imposition of consistent, comprehensive pressure, beyond economic sanctions, to
exacerbate Iran's internal tensions so that the regime is ultimately undone from
requires confronting and raising the costs of Iran's imperial project, not just
those actions that threaten only American lives and assets. The United States
must keep up the attacks against Iranian assets in the region and join Israel in
rolling back Iranian aggression.
Soleimani strike has changed the game. But the United States will win only if
the strike inaugurates a new, concerted strategy of pressuring the Tehran regime
until it collapses.
Makovsky, a former Pentagon official in the George W. Bush administration, is
president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA).
Jonathan Ruhe is Director of Foreign Policy at JINSA's Gemunder Center for
Defense & Strategy.