Assessing the Iran Deal

April 05, 2017

Testimony
Testimony by CFR fellows and experts before Congress.

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Iran

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Ray Takeyh testified before the Subcommittee on National Security of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government and gave his assessment of the stability of the Islamic Republic and what the United States can should do to counter Iran’s influence in the region and weaken the regime.

Takeaways

  • The historical trajectory of the Islamic Republic of Iran is similar to that of the Soviet Union in the 1970s. By the end, when many believed the Soviet state was still robust, the USSR had stretched its resources thin and could not be salvaged through reform. The same is true of Iran today, which is politically less stable than it seems.
  • The Iranian regime is not a traditional autocracy. It allows elections as a safety valve and remains motivated by ideology long after it should have dispensed with its ideological patrimony. The June 2009 Green Movement demonstrated that many have become disenchanted with the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary values and threatened the foundations of the regime—many high-ranking Iranian officials have since acknowledged that the regime came to the brink of collapse at the time. The United States’ lack of support for the protesters cost the movement its success, but even as the regime regained control, the essential link between the state and society were severed.
  • As President Ronald Reagan did with the Soviet Union, U.S. diplomacy toward Iran should devise a comprehensive policy that undermines the theocratic regime and exploits its vulnerabilities, not just renegotiate a better arms-control agreement. There is also an opportunity for the United States to realign the politics of the Middle East.

Policy Options

  • The United States should establish ties with forces of opposition within Iran, empower those who share American values, and use economic sanctions to shrink Iran’s economy and bring it to the brink of collapse.
  • The United States should bolster its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf by ensuring their capability to fight Iranian proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen; protect against Iran’s efforts to undermine their internal security; defend their economic infrastructure; and prevent Iran from interdicting their energy exports along key transit routes. The United States should also press all Arab states to lessen their commercial and diplomatic ties to Iran.
  • The United States should reenergize its relationship with and Israel, which would deter Iranian actions. Additionally, the United States can facilitate closer relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states by highlighting their common interest in fighting the Islamic Republic.
  • The United States should push the Iraqi government to govern more inclusively so that they can diminish Iranian influence over them. The United States can help by reaching out to Sunni Iraqi tribes on a scale equivalent to what took place during the 2007 surge of U.S. troops, ramping up military assistance to Kurds and Sunni tribal forces, intensifying the air campaign against the self-declared Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria, and embedding U.S. personnel in the Iraqi military at lower levels than it currently does. The price for greater U.S. involvement should be a commitment on the part of local actors to press back against Iran and its enablers.
  • For strategic and humanitarian reasons, the United States should embrace the task of unseating the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, who is an Iranian client, in Syria. This will take considerable effort and commitment, but it will also force Iran to sink more resources and men into the Syrian conflict or cut its losses.
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