Writing in the Washington Post, Professors Alexander Downes of George Washington University, and Lindsey O'Rourke of Boston College, argue against regime-change in Iran.
I disagree with their rationale for a few reasons. Most importantly, I do not believe that regime change is as easily definable as they assume. Like "politics," "regime change" has many faces. A policy of regime change might mean withdrawing diplomatic relations, or introducing sanctions, or enforcing a trade boycott, or banning a nation's citizens from travel to America, or an effort to promote alternate political beliefs. Or, yes, the use of force.
But it doesn't mean any one of these things unless you specify further. Applying statistical analysis of disparate situations, the authors thus attempt to find patterns where none can exist.
I believe foreign policy is clarified by individual human nature and choices, not statistics. If a human leader acts in an unpredictable way, he or she can buck the trend. History tells the tale.
Hannibal threatened Rome's omnipotence by matching aggression with guile. He did the impossible: crossing the Pyrenees and the Alps, and then crushing multiple Roman armies.
Japan came close to destroying the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor by striking at its heart, rather than its limbs at sea.
Most complex terrorism plots in the United States do not succeed, but Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Al Qaeda's strategic operations officer, used the U.S. government's bureaucracy against it on 9/11. His hijackers applied for tourist and business visas and then hid in plain sight (attending flight schools). Similarly, ISIS uses inspirational attackers to mitigate an attack's likelihood of attracting U.S. intelligence attention. The Orlando, Nice, and London attacks prove the error of using statistics to portray terrorism as an exaggerated threat.
My point in giving all these examples is that a "regime change" policy toward Iran cannot be effectively assessed on the basis of statistics.
Another problem is Downes' and O'Rourke's assumption that an Iran-related regime change policy would employ violent covert action. I think that's highly unlikely.
As with Bill Clinton and his policy of regime change in Iraq, Trump seems skeptical of foreign entanglements. His statements, though aggressive towards Iran, do not indicate a desire to use force to overthrow the regime. Instead, I would expect Trump regime-change efforts in Iran to focus on denying Iran's access to international markets and finance systems, a crackdown on Iran's ballistic missile testing, constraint of Iran's violent expansionism in the Middle East, and pressure on U.S. allies to avoid financial dealings with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Again, the broader issue is that a policy of regime change does not necessarily need to be violent.
At present, for example, regime change is the effective U.S. policy toward North Korea, Venezuela, Sudan, Russia, China, and a whole host of other nations. But that doesn't mean we are going to invade any of those countries, or that we'd even seriously consider it. The U.S. calibrates its regime-change policy with patience. Doing so, the U.S. leaves space to deal with those regimes. The U.S. is not pursuing the decapitation strategy that defined our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Iran's regime cannot be considered compatible with U.S. interests. We should not be considering the use of force to overthrow it, but our experience in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria all prove that Iran's policies directly harm U.S. national security. A slow-rolling, calibrated regime change policy is thus preferable.