During a recent visit, Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) met with Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and in a rally in Tirana, Albania, he addressed members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the Iranian dissidents now living safely in Albania. This marks a significant milestone in their struggle to bring about democratic change in Iran.
After several deadly attacks and years of delays, the MEK abandoned Camp Liberty in Iraq, with help from the Obama administration. Perhaps as many as 3,000 lives were saved.
Tehran criticized the relocation of MEK members to the Albanian capital, as well as Senator McCain’s recent visit. The visit was described by the Iranian Foreign Ministry as part of a “wrong policy and obscene conduct,” and as “a mistake that the U.S. government will pay for.”
Senator McCain’s visit points out two important steps with policy implications.
• First, the measures that the Obama administration and former Secretary of State John Kerry took to safeguard the Iranian resistance.
• Second, the Trump administration’s steps to compel the Iranian regime to play a less destructive role in the region and the world at large.
In an article for The Hill, Dr. Majid Sadeghpour, political director of the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIACUS), writes, “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.”
Indeed, President Trump declared the nuclear agreement to be one of the worst deals ever negotiated. U.S. policy toward Iran has undergone a shift that Senator McCain and other congressional supporters of the Iranian resistance are eager to embrace.
President Trump issued a warning to Tehran over its missile tests and has ordered 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.
Critics of these efforts worry that any assertive policy will drastically increase the risk of war. However, Dr. Sadeghpour says, “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.” He says further, that “this was 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.”
Military action is not the only tool available to the U.S., McCain’s trip and the increased political strength of the Iranian Resistance highlights another option.
“Given the suffocating and oppressive political environment within Iran,” Dr. Sadeghpour writes, “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.”
Armed conflict is therefore neither necessary nor prudent for the U.S. A policy based on economic sanctions will diminish the wealth and power of the IRGC and the Iranian regime, and will also bolster the resources and capabilities of resistance activists and dissidents inside Iran.