August 11, 2005 | Executive Memorandum on Iran
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's installation as Iran's new president on August 6 is a triumph for Iran's hardliners, who now control all the important levers of power after thwarting the tentative reform efforts of outgoing President Mohammad Khatami. A dedicated revolutionary who rose up through the ranks of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Ahmadinejad will likely put a more assertive and uncompromising face on Iran's foreign policy. Now that Iran's moderates have been purged from the government, it is time for the Bush Administration to lead an international effort to contain the growing threat of Iran and ultimately to effect regime change.
Back to the Future. Ahmadinejad is a hardcore true believer in Ayatollah Khomeini's radical Islamic ideology and seeks to restore the "purity of the revolution." Significantly, one of his first acts after winning Iran's quasi-election was to visit Khomeini's grave to underscore his devotion. The new president has dismissed widespread criticism of the flawed elections, saying, "Iran did not carry out its revolution for the sake of democracy."
Ahmadinejad, now 49, was a leader of the radical student group that seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, although there is little evidence that he participated in that act of terrorism. He later joined the IRGC and served as an officer during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. The IRGC, the regime's praetorian guard, helped export Iran's Islamic revolution by training and supporting a wide variety of foreign terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The IRGC was also involved in the assassinations of Iranian dissidents, including the 1989 murders of three Kurdish opposition leaders in Austria. According to a state prosecutor in Vienna, Ahmadinejad may be implicated in the three murders.
Iran-U.S. relations will likely deteriorate during Ahmadinejad's presidency. He has lambasted the U.S. as "a failing power" and a threat to the Muslim world. He is firmly committed to Iran's nuclear program and has criticized Iran's negotiators for making too many concessions to the EU3 (Britain, France, and Germany) in talks about Iran's nuclear program. On August 8, Iran resumed uranium conversion activities, a clear violation of its November 2004 agreement with the EU3 that has put Tehran on a collision course with the EU and the United States.
Pushing Change in Iran. The Bush Administration has correctly aligned the U.S. with the Iranian people in their efforts to build a true democracy, but it has held back from a policy of regime change, partly in deference to the EU3 negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program. However, now that it is clear that Iran has reneged on its promises to the EU3, the U.S. should:
Conclusion. Former President Khatami has warned about the potentially dangerous inclinations of the incoming government: "I pray to God that our friends would not make a mistake and misinterpret the people's choice as their intention to return to extremism." The United States and its allies must make clear that Iran's hardliners will be forced to pay a prohibitively high economic, political, diplomatic, and possibly military cost if they continue to seek nuclear weapons or export terrorism and subversion to their neighbors.
James Phillips is Research Fellow in Middle Eastern Studies in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.