A white paper that offers a strategy by which the Trump administration can assist an already aggravated Iranian public is being circulated among National Security Council officials. It outlines a democratization strategy that focuses on driving a deeper wedge between the Iranian people and the ruling regime.
The Security Studies Group, or SSG, a national security think-tank with ties to senior White House national security officials, including National Security Adviser John Bolton, authored the plan, which examines American foreign policy toward Iran and emphasizes a policy of regime change. This would require a fundamental shift in U.S. policy towards Iran, something to which the Trump administration appears to be receptive. In fact, Bolton is a longtime and vocal supporter of regime change.
U.S military intervention is minimized, and focus is placed on supporting the Iranian population that is angry at the ruling regime. “The ordinary people of Iran are suffering under economic stagnation, while the regime ships its wealth abroad to fight its expansionist wars and to pad the bank accounts of the Mullahs and the IRGC command,” SSG writes in the paper. “This has provoked noteworthy protests across the country in recent months.”
SSG’s president, Jim Hanson, said in an interview, “The Trump administration has no desire to roll tanks in an effort to directly topple the Iranian regime,” Hanson said. “But they would be much happier dealing with a post-Mullah government. That is the most likely path to a nuclear weapons-free and less dangerous Iran.”
An NSC official declined to comment directly on the report, but said, “Our stated policy is to change the Iranian regime’s behavior of continuous destabilizing regional acts and support of terrorism.” The official added, “The National Security Council is in receipt of reams of policy papers and reports, some are read with interest, others are not. Receipt of a policy paper in no way means that we are going to adopt the position of that paper.”
“The JCPOA purposefully destroyed the carefully created global consensus against the Islamic Republic,” said a source close to the issue. “Prior to that, everyone understood the dangers of playing footsie with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism. It’s now Trump, Bolton, and [Mike] Pompeo’s job to put this consensus back in place.”
The source also discussed John Bolton, “John is someone who understands the danger of Iran viscerally, and knows that you’re never going to fundamentally change its behavior—and the threats against Israel and the Saudis especially—until that revolutionary regime is gone,” he said, adding that “nothing’s off the table right now if Israel is attacked.”
Another source close to the White House and familiar with the issue said, “The problem is not the Iran nuclear deal it’s the Iranian regime.” The source could only speak on background, but added, “Team Bolton has spent years creating Plans B, C, and D for dealing with that problem. President Trump hired him knowing all of that. The administration will now start aggressively moving to deal with the root cause of chaos and violence in the region in a clear-eyed way.”
The SSG claims that regional sources “tell us that Iranian social media is more outraged about internal oppression, such as the recent restrictions on Telegram, than about supporting or opposing the nuclear program. Iranian regime oppression of its ethnic and religious minorities has created the conditions for an effective campaign designed to splinter the Iranian state into component parts.”
“More than one third of Iran’s population is minority groups, many of whom already seek independence,” according to the paper. “U.S. support for these independence movements, both overt and covert, could force the regime to focus attention on them and limit its ability to conduct other malign activities.” It continues, “U.S. policy toward Iran currently does not publicly articulate two components vital to success: That a new birth of liberty based in self-determination for the Iranian people should be official policy; and that military action should be anticipated if other measures fail.”
The plan alleges that, “A credible hard power option exists. That option does not consist of large invasion forces or long, costly occupations.”
“The probability the current Iranian theocracy will stop its nuclear program willingly or even under significant pressure is low,” the plan states. “Absent a change in government within Iran, America will face a choice between accepting a nuclear-armed Iran or acting to destroy as much of this capability as possible.”
As Trump emphasized in his statement about exiting the deal earlier this week, U.S. officials must make efforts to publicly differentiate between Iran’s ruling regime and its people. The plan agrees, stating, “Any public discussion of these options, and any messaging about the Iranian regime in general, should make a bright line distinction between the theocratic regime along with its organs of oppression and the general populace. We must constantly reinforce our support for removing the iron sandal from the necks of the people to allow them the freedom they deserve.”