Iranian regime change: An Obama achievement we could believe in

By William Kristol
Friday, February 12, 2010

Vice President Biden -- who was for the Iraq war before he was against it, and who then argued that the surge could never work before he decided (in retrospect) that it did -- said this to Larry King on Wednesday night:

"I am very optimistic about -- about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You're going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You're going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government. . . . I've been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences."

Iraq is "one of the great achievements of this administration"? Well, any port in a political storm -- even if it means taking credit for the success of policies of the previous administration, policies you opposed. In politics, after all, success acquires many fathers. And that's fine, if it means the Obama administration is careful over the next couple of years not to toss away American troops' achievements in Iraq.

King (in his inimitable way) then asked Biden about Iran: "Iran, nuclear -- worry?"

Biden acknowledged that, yes, Iran is "a concern. A real concern, not an immediate concern in the sense that something could happen tomorrow or in the very near term. But what I worry most about with regard to Iran, if they continue on the path of nuclear weapons and were able to gain even a modicum of the capability, then I worry what that does -- Larry, and you know the Middle East, what that -- what pressure that puts on Saudi Arabia, on Egypt, on Turkey, etc. To acquire nuclear weapons . . . .That's very destabilizing."

Leave aside whether it make sense to worry more about other countries getting nuclear weapons in response to Iran than about the more immediate problem of the Iranian regime acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Leave aside also that Biden -- following in his boss's footsteps -- couldn't be bothered to express anything in the way of solidarity with the demonstrators who would be taking to the streets of Iran the next day.

What's striking is this: (a) Even Biden seems to realize that having the current Iranian regime go nuclear would be a problem that could, unfortunately, outweigh all other successes in the Middle East, such as Iraq; (b) even Biden doesn't bother to pretend that the year the Obama administration spent on "engagement" with Iran produced anything worthwhile; and (c) even Biden doesn't bother to claim that the effects of a nuclear Iran can be "contained" by extending deterrence to other nations in the Middle East, or other favorite nostrums of some in the foreign policy community.

So what is the Obama administration going to do about the Iranian regime's pursuit of nuclear weapons?

Sanctions. But even if the administration succeeds in the U.N. Security Council, even if the administration is then able (with the Europeans) to go beyond what the Russians and Chinese will accept at the United Nations, even if the administration is willing to again consider the "crippling" sanctions it once discussed but now shies away from and even if the administration is willing to risk military conflict by preventing the importing of refined petroleum to Iran -- none of this is likely to succeed in inducing the regime in Tehran to halt uranium enrichment or in preventing the regime from ultimately acquiring nuclear weapons capability.

But maybe sanctions are simply designed to buy time. Or, as one senior Obama administration official told the New York Times this week, "It is about driving them back to negotiations, because the real goal here is to avoid war."

One supposes the official is referring to the possibility of an Israeli strike against the Iranian nuclear program. Or is he referring to an American strike? In either case, he's right that war is a real possibility. In fact, I'd say military action is likely at some point over the next couple of years if there's not regime change in Iran.

But thanks to the people of Iran, regime change is now a real possibility. Surely the administration could have more of a sense of urgency in helping increase the odds of that devoutly to-be-wished goal.

Perhaps embracing the concept of "regime change" spooks the Obama administration. It's awfully reminiscent of George W. Bush. But one great failure of the Bush administration was its second-term fecklessness with respect to Iran. Bush kicked the Iran can down the road. Does Obama want an achievement that eluded Bush? Regime change in Iran -- that would be an Obama administration achievement that Joe Biden, and the rest of us, could really celebrate.

William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, writes a monthly column for The Post.

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