Will President Biden adopt President Carter’s regime-change policy?

Initially a true believer in Iran’s ayatollahs, Carter ultimately came to realize that the only way to deal with them was via regime change.

Demonstration in Iran on Sept. 8, 1978. The sentence on the placard read: “We want an Islamic government, led by Imam Khomeini.” Credit: Islamic Revolution Document Center via Wikimedia Commons.
Demonstration in Iran on Sept. 8, 1978. The sentence on the placard read: “We want an Islamic government, led by Imam Khomeini.” Credit: Islamic Revolution Document Center via Wikimedia Commons.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based White House Historical Association, the 1978/79 U.S. policy on Iran, that embraced Ayatollah Khomeini, betrayed the pro-U.S. shah and failed the pro-U.S. Sunni Arab regimes, was based on a superficial view of Middle East political, religious, cultural and historical reality.

“In January 1979, the Shah fled into exile, and the theocratic regime of Khomeini took power. There was little informed understanding in the U.S. government about the political implications of this fundamentalist regime. Gary Sick, who was on the National Security staff, recalled a meeting in which Vice President Walter Mondale asked the CIA director Stansfield Turner, ‘What the hell is an Ayatollah anyway.’ Turner said he wasn’t sure he knew….”

However, the New York-based Foreign Affairs Magazine claims that—following President Carter’s initial assessment that Ayatollah Khomeini would be preoccupied with tractors, not tanks—the U.S. president amended his position on the Islamic Republic. He concluded, according to Foreign Affairs, that regime-change was the most realistic policy toward Iran, because the ayatollahs were relentlessly anti-American, bad-faith negotiators, neither partners for peaceful coexistence nor amenable to democracy.

“Recently declassified documents reveal that in December 1979, Carter issued a presidential finding—a notification to Congress required under laws passed in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal—ordering the CIA to ‘conduct propaganda and political and economic action operations to encourage the establishment of a responsible and democratic regime in Iran; make contacts with Iranian opposition leaders and interested governments in order to encourage interactions that could lead to a broad, pro-Western front capable of forming an alternative government….’ The CIA attempted to organize external Iranian opposition groups into a cohesive force, tried to aid dissidents in Iran, and enlisted regional powers such as Saudi Arabia to help undermine the nascent theocracy,” the report states.

Has the 1979-2022 track record of Iran’s ayatollahs justified President Carter’s transformation of policy from diplomacy to regime-change?

1979-2022 track record of Iran’s ayatollahs

• Since February 1979, Iran has been transformed from “The American Policeman of the Gulf” to the anti-U.S. Islamic Republic, preoccupied with the global export of the anti-U.S. Islamic Revolution.

• Since February 1979, they have promoted an anti-U.S. education system and hateful mosque sermons. They have committed horrific violations of human rights, in general, and women’s rights in particular. In addition, they have perpetrated regional and global anti-US subversion, terrorism and civil wars; proliferated conventional and non-conventional military technologies (including in Latin America).

Iran’s ayatollahs have also established close strategic ties with North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Syria, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as with the leading drug cartels of Mexico, Columbia and Bolivia, in addition to Latin American terror organizations.

• Since February 1979, Iran’s ayatollahs have been a classic apocalyptic, thick-skinned regime, driven by a 1,400-year-old fanatic, imperialistic Shi’ite vision, brainwashing Iranian youth to martyrdom. This has transcended the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, extending to South and Central America, all the way to the U.S.-Mexico border—the soft underbelly of the United States.

• Since February 1979, they have dedicated substantial resources to the export of the Islamic Revolution, to advance the establishment of a global Shi’ite entity, vanquish (peacefully or militarily) the “apostate” and “heretic” Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt, and bring to submission the “infidel” West, especially “The Great American Satan.”

• Since 1979, Iran’s ayatollahs have demonstrated a tendency to bite the hand that feeds them, as transpired in November 1979, when they took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held more than 50 Americans hostage for 444 days, following the critical U.S. assistance to their takeover of Iran. Also, in 2015, the U.S.-engineered Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal rewarded the ayatollahs with some $150 billion, most of which was invested in bolstering their anti-U.S. global machine of terror, subversion, drug trafficking and money laundering.

• The 1979 and 2015 U.S. attempts to soothe the ayatollahs’ fanaticism have backfired, whetting their megalomaniacal appetite and undermining the United States’ global stature.

• The 1979-2022 track record of the ayatollahs demonstrates that their worldview is not amenable to peaceful coexistence, democracy and human rights, or good-faith negotiation.

• Waiving the military option and the regime-change option reflects an assumption that such a policy would constrain the Ayatollahs’ violence. However—as expected—waiving these options has been perceived by the ayatollahs as weakness, and has therefore intensified their anti-U.S. violence.

• It was the November 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy, which transformed President Carter from a true believer in Iran’s ayatollahs as good-faith negotiators into the realization that the ayatollahs were inherently anti-U.S. and ill-faith negotiators, and therefore subject to regime-change.

• Shouldn’t the 1979-2022 systematic rogue track record of Iran’s ayatollahs convince the U.S. executive and the co-equal U.S. legislature that regime-change (not regime-bolstering) is the proper option? Or do they assume that the Iranian leopard may be capable of changing spots, not just tactics.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was originally published by The Ettinger Report.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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