I like John Bolton. I disagree with many of his neoconservative stances but I believe his heart’s in the right place. In the wake of the successful killing of the terrorist mastermind behind hundreds of Americans killed in recent years, Qasem Soleimani, Bolton chimed in with a call for the start of regime change in Iran.
Congratulations to all involved in eliminating Qassem Soleimani. Long in the making, this was a decisive blow against Iran's malign Quds Force activities worldwide. Hope this is the first step to regime change in Tehran.
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) January 3, 2020
This isn’t new. Bolton has been calling for the removal of the Ayatollah and Iran’s government since before 9/11. He rightly sees them as a threat to American interests in the region. But he’s wrong to believe that the solution is a military campaign, a la the invasion of Iraq and the ousting of Saddam Hussein. In fact, the last thing we want to do is turn the world against us as an imperialistic state bent on removing unwanted leaders by force.
In response, I offered former National Security Advisor Bolton three reasons we should not be pushing for regime change in Iran. But before I get to those, let’s discuss why it’s a consideration. Iran’s government hates us. They don’t want us to have influence in the Middle East. They don’t want us protecting their two biggest enemies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Many of them don’t want us to exist at all. When you have a powerful military and the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism under the control of a regime that wants to destroy you, the desire to get rid of them is completely understandable.
But it’s not the way we should go.
Regime change requires boots on the ground in a sovereign nation.
Regime change is far less effective than economic sanctions and strategic, defensive strikes like the killing of Soleimani.
Regime change, as we've seen the last two decades, never works as intended. https://t.co/PxOFEUhLEG
— JD Rucker (@JDRucker) January 3, 2020
Boots on the ground
We need fewer troops in the Middle East, not more. Our interests there are great, but we can maintain security of those interests from the relative safety of Embassies, bases in friendly nations, and at sea. We don’t need a larger footprint in the Middle East, especially in places where our presence is unwarranted like Afghanistan and Syria.
What regime-change proponents are asking is for tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of troops to invade Iran. That’s what it would take to exact regime change. Keep in mind, Iran in 2020 is not Iraq in 2003. This is a military that has been indoctrinated into hating us. They have sophisticated weapons and training from Russia, including state-of-the-art defensive capabilities that could prevent us from achieving the air superiority necessary for a sustained engagement.
Any incursion into Iran will be bloodier than anything we’ve seen since Vietnam. In fact, it may be bloodier than Vietnam if Russia gets involved. You won’t see Iranian soldiers surrendering to French journalists. You’ll see a stout military fight until every American invader has withdrawn or is killed.
Keep up the pressure
The reality in Iran is that regime change is already in progress. It’s not a military incursion or an internal coup, but the economic pressure they’ve felt under President Trump’s crushing sanctions has made them desperate. This pressure is the predicate for their recent unhinged actions, from bombing Saudi oil targets and seizing oil tankers to escalating attacks against Americans through their militias. They WANT us to attack them so they can turn to the international community for aid.
Their people have taken to the streets in protest of the government’s obsession with funding terrorism while their citizens struggle. The crates full of cash that President Obama gave them weren’t used to lift up the people or elevate the economy. They were used to fund the very terrorists, militias, and proxies Iran employs to go after Americans, Israelis, and Saudis.
But that money has run out. They’re struggling to keep their economy from free fall. Eventually, they will have to come to the negotiating table. Now is not the time you invade. Now is the time to secure the areas around them, institute even harsher sanctions, and squeeze them until they realize their only recourse is to destroy their nuclear ambitions and rejoin the civilized world. Or fall. They have that option too, at which point regime change will happen naturally.
Lessons from the past
I understand Bolton’s desires. I was, regrettably, one of the millions of Americans who bought into the notion that Saddam Hussein needed to be ousted from Iraq. But just as Iraq has turned into a quagmire that never realized a resolution to our invasion, so too would Iran. If anything, Iran would be much, much worse. The bloodshed that would be necessary to take down the Iranian government would come at a great price as the people will have suffered much worse than the people of Iraq did.
As invasions go, our invasion of Iraq was almost ideal. American casualties were minimal and Iraqis dropped their weapons at the first sighting of an Apache helicopter on the horizon. There were much fewer battlefield casualties than expected which allowed our entry into Baghdad to be a positive thing. Iran would be different. It would be much bloodier. You don’t get greeted as saviors and heroes when you’ve killed a loved one of nearly everyone there, and that’s what would happen if we attempted regime change in Iran. Casualties on both sides would be too great for this to be as “successful” as the invasion of Iraq.
Considering how badly the Iraq invasion turned out for everyone involved, the notion that we could do better in Iran must be dismissed as lunacy.
John Bolton is a patriot whose heart is in the right place. But his decades-long obsession with regime change in Iran is misplaced. It’s simply not necessary. Sanctions and strategic military strikes are working. Let’s stay the course.
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