by Dr. Majid Sadeghpour

Recently, Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain(R-Ariz.) met with Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and addressed members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) in a rally in Tirana, Albania.Senator McCain’s visit represents a turning point in the plight of the Iranian dissidents now in Albania, but more importantly, marks a significant milestone in their struggle to bring about democratic change in Iran.

Despite years of delays and several deadly attacks by mercenaries loyal to the Iranian regime, the MEK left Camp Liberty in Iraq with help from the previous occupants of the White House — perhaps the only piece of former President Obama’s Iran policy that will prove to have a lasting positive effect. As many as 3,000 lives were saved.

Notably, the safe relocation of the MEK members to the Albanian capital was harshly criticized by Tehran, as was McCain’s recent visit. The Iranian Foreign Ministry described the senator’s visit as part of a “wrong policy and obscene conduct,” and as “a mistake that the U.S. government will pay for.” In reality, the Iranian government reaction demonstrates a fear that U.S. policy toward Iran may be in transition.  

Senator McCain’s visit actually highlights two important steps with policy implications. First, the significant steps that President Obama’s administration and former Secretary of State John Kerry took to safeguard the Iranian resistance. Second, that the Trump administration is now taking active steps to compel the Iranian regime to play a less destructive role in the region and the world at large.

These two developments go hand-in-hand. The relocation of the residents of Camp Liberty ultimately succeeded in providing them with a stable base of activity from which they are able to continue their political fight against the Iranian theocracy. They have now joined the tens of thousands of other Iranian expatriates who remain committed activists for the cause of democracy in Iran. 

Instead of the nuclear deal with Iran, President Obama’s Iran policy legacy may indeed ultimately be remembered by its efforts to ensure MEK members' safety. The nuclear agreement he eagerly spearheaded provided Tehran with numerous un-earned concessions, in exchange for anemic and ultimately reversible commitments regarding its uranium enrichment program. The deal even led to changes in the language of U.N. resolutions, effectively leaving the regime free to test nuclear-capable ballistic missiles with impunity. 

These and other weak dealings have rightly been criticized as appeasement, and Obama’s successor rightly declared the nuclear agreement to be one of the worst deals ever negotiated. These facts appear to set the stage for a major shift in U.S. policy toward Iran, a shift that Senator McCain and other congressional supporters of the Iranian resistance are eager to embrace.

Indeed, the bandwagon is already rolling. After unilateral moves by President Trump, including a warning to Tehran over its missile tests and an order for the State Department to review a possible terrorist designation for Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the House and Senate have both moved to expand sanctions on Iran.

 

There are, however, those who worry about the implications of these efforts. Emboldened by professional lobbyists for the Iranian regime, these policy “experts” suggest that simply by virtue of upsetting the mullahs, any assertive policy will drastically increase the risk of war.

Let’s be clear: Iran poses no serious military threat to the U.S. An Iranian military parade soon after McCain’s visit to Tirana is ample evidence of the paucity of Iranian capabilities. A prominent feature was the unveiling of an Iranian-made stealth fighter, which did not take flight, likely because it is not capable of doing so.

The Qaher F-313 has been widely dismissed by military analysts as an Iranian hoax and consistent with Iran’s tradition of gluing decorations to outmoded military equipment or non-functioning models to demonstrate advanced technology.

This ridiculous escapade served as yet another reminder that economic sanctions work and that the Obama administration shouldn’t have given them up for anything less than a transformative shift in Tehran’s priorities. The Trump administration has shown itself more willing to utilize sanctions to diminish the influence of the IRGC and challenge Iran’s domestic repression and regional meddling.

Obviously, there are more tools available to the U.S. that do not require military action. The latter was underscored by McCain’s trip and the increased political strength of the Iranian Resistance. Given the suffocating and oppressive political environment within Iran, the people of Iran, who are overwhelmingly opposed to the ruling theocracy, stand ready to overthrow the existing regime as soon as its repressive apparatus is sufficiently weakened. 

In this context, it is neither necessary nor prudent for U.S. policy toward Iran to lead to armed conflict. An assertive policy based on economic sanctions and international consensus-building could go a long way toward diminishing the wealth and power of the IRGC and the Iranian regime.

These steps will also inherently bolster the resources and capabilities of resistance activists and dissidents inside Iran. In this paradigm, transformative change in Iran is indeed within reach if the U.S. capitalizes on these opportunities.

Dr. Majid Sadeghpour is the political director of the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIACUS), a non-profit organization that works to promote human rights and democratic freedoms in Iran. 

originally published in the Hill 

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