Iran is in a deep social and economic crisis. Despite its foreign policy successes in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, the Iranian regime has failed its citizens at home. Since December, 2017, the people in Iran took to the streets to protest the economic situation, corruption, nepotism, mismanagement and democratic deficit in the country. From that time on, the protests have been taking place on a weekly, if not daily, basis with protesters chanting slogans like “Death to Khamenei”, “Let go off the country” etc. Amid nation-wide protests in Iran, the Trump administration on 8 May withdrew the US from JCPOA, a deal which allegedly prevented Iran from developing nuclear weapons in return for easing sanctions regime on the country. By withdrawing from the deal, the US brought back the sanctions and started what it called “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran. While the current economic crisis is largely Iran’s own making, the re-imposition of US sanctions by the Trump administration has hugely worsened the situation. Since then, Iranian currency, the rial, has lost more than 70% of its value, inflation skyrocketed over a night, and purchasing power of Iranians has been continuously diminishing. All this increased internal pressure on the Ayatollahs. It is justifiably believed that the regime is now much more vulnerable to an internal pressure than ever before, which may ultimately dethrone the theocratic government.
Amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran, the Trump administration held a conference in Warsaw, Polish capital. The conference is said to be aimed at “changing Iran’s behavior” in the Middle East, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put it mildly. Despite American denials, the US is currently pursuing a “regime change” in Iran, and Warsaw Conference was a part of this policy to build an anti-Iran Coalition that consolidates the impression that the world is lining up behind Trump’s hardline approach to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although the Trump administration was correct to withdraw from the Iran deal, which did never address the threat Iran’s growing ballistic missile arsenal poses on the regional and global security, and start its “maximum pressure” campaign on the Islamic Republic, which is obviously aggressive and malign actor in the Middle East, the regime change policy would not be a wise policy to employ in order to successfully contain and confront Iran. There are certain reasons for the US to not pursue a dangerous regime change in Iran.
Firstly, the peace is too fragile in Iran. If the regime falls, it is highly likely that Iran without a strong central government will potentially end up in a protracted civil war. This will further destabilize not only Iran, but also the whole of the Middle East, which is definitely not in the very interest of either the US or its allies. Historical records show that when the central government weakens in Iran, the periphery of the country tries to gain more autonomy and even independence. In its turn, this causes more bloodshed and destabilization in the country. Among others, the Kurds are the most likely minority that will take up arms in the event of a massive disobedience in Iran. The Kurds, led by the founder of Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran – Qazi Muhammad, established the Mahabad Republic in 1946 with the help of Soviet Union. So, there is no reason for them to not try doing the same again when the circumstances allow them. The Beluchis, the Iranian Turks and others will follow the suit, which will make Iran falling into a pure Hobbesian state of anarchy. From both ethical and strategic perspectives, watching Iran sliding into a devastating civil war is definitely not in the interests of the West.
Second reason is that if Iran gets destabilized and slides into a civil war, the massive amount of Iranians will possibly try to flee the country. Since European Union is the most likely destination for them, the new wave of millions of refugees will knock the doors of the EU via Turkey, who are already burdened by the inflow of millions of Syrian refugees. Considering the rise of far-right and mostly pro-Russian parties throughout Europe, the influx of millions of refugees would certainly face a backlash from the populace and empower illiberal parties in Europe. Furthermore, Turkey, which is a strategically important NATO ally, would be destabilized, too. Turkey currently hosts about 4 millions of Syrian refugees. However, the public has been increasingly hostile towards the refugees, resulting in clashes between the locals and Syrians from time to time. Moreover, Iran prevents Afghan refugees from reaching Europe as well. Therefore, if it falls, not only Iranians, but also Afghans will easily reach Europe. Considering the fact that the civil war in Syria with its 26 million population shook the EU, a new civil war in Iran with its 80 million population would completely change political landscape of Europe. In this sense, the destabilization of Iran benefits neither the US nor its vital allies in Europe.
Thirdly, Iran may turn to be a launching pad for radicalized Shias, who will blame the West and Sunni Gulf Monarchies for the fall of Islamic Republic. For this matter, they will want to take revenge. Considering the fact that Iran has the largest arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles in the Middle East, these missiles could easily fall into the hands of highly radicalized Shia militias and terrorists, who would be eager to take a revenge from the West. This would immediately put the US, Europe and American allies in the Middle East at a serious risk. Historical records show that this has a high possibility to happen. For example, after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the country turned to be safe haven for Al-Qaida and other Salafi terrorists. In fact, it was the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 that led to the establishment of Islamic State of Iraq in 2006. Therefore, the US should be careful not to make the same mistake in Iran, which may lead to the establishment of Shia version of so-called “ISIS” in Iran.
In sum, to make things clear, Iran is a malign actor in the Middle East, and damaging Western interests any place, where it is possible. Therefore, it should be confronted and contained in order to make sure the Islamic Republic does not threaten American allies in the region and outside of it. Iran must also be prevented from gaining nuclear technology. Furthermore, the US has a moral and strategic obligation to make sure that Iran, one of the main backers of murderous Assad regime, does not turn the Levant region into a Shia front to wage a full-fledged war on Israel and threaten its Jewish population with total annihilation. However, this should be done in a way that does not threaten America’s other allies in both Europe and the Middle East. Therefore, the US should fear a “regime change” in Iran rather than cheering it.