In theory, I agree with John McCain:
Senator John McCain called on the United States on Thursday to support regime change in Iran, saying that the latest United Nations sanctions are "inadequate" and that it is unrealistic to expect the current government in Tehran to stop pursuing nuclear weapons, supporting terrorism and cracking down on its own people.
In a speech at the National Endowment for Democracy honoring Iran's dissident Green Movement, Mr. McCain said President Obama's attempt to talk with Tehran has been "defiantly met with a clenched fist" and that the hope that Iran's rulers will finally negotiate in good faith "seems totally at odds with the character of this Iranian regime."
"I believe that it will only be a change in the Iranian regime itself -- a peaceful change, chosen by and led by the people of Iran -- that could finally produce the changes we seek in Iran's policies," Mr. McCain said. The United States, he said, should "mobilize our friends and allies in like-minded countries" to help the opposition in its challenge to the Tehran government, although he did not specify how that change would be enacted.
Yes, yes, fine. I dislike the Iranian regime, too, and I wish it would be tossed into the dustbin of history. And at least he isn't calling for military action, like his neoconservative pals at The Weekly Standard. But wishing for regime change, wanting it, isn't the same as actually doing something to try to make it happen. And while McCain calls for mobilization of friends and allies and for support to be given to the Iranian opposition, he is notably short on details. (See also McCain's follow-up piece at The New Republic today. It is admirable in its idealism, but, again, there isn't much of a concrete plan.)
This isn't about changing a pair of pants, after all, it's about changing the regime -- which goes beyond just the current government (which is an expression of the underlying regime, which is deeply entrenched) -- of a significant country in the Middle East, of a significant regional power with an extensive reach beyond its borders, of a nation-state with a large population, a long history, and a powerful ruling establishment rooted in the country's established religion.
Yes, much of the country leans to the West, and there is a vocal opposition movement, but even the more liberal, reform-minded elements, elements that are socio-culturally and perhaps even politically and economically attracted to Americanism, tend to be deeply nationalistic and prideful. Lest we forget, as Amir Farokhi wrote at my place last year, "Iran's political protesters requested that the U.S. stay out of Iran's political drama," not least because of "the longstanding history of Western interference in Iran's domestic affairs." (And, too, the leader of the Green Movement, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, supports his country's nuclear program.) Pushing regime change -- openly and aggressively, as McCain seems to want -- would likely only succeed in pushing away those who will ultimately be the agents of change, the reformers whose credibility with the Iranian people would be weakened were they to be seen as agents of America.
McCain, as usual, is all talk and no substance, and, in this case, he just doesn't seem to understand Iran at all, articulating a goal without any plan to get there and making comments without any regard for what will actually bring meaningful change to a country that desperately needs it. Thankfully, the man who beat him seems to get it, and, while the Iranian regime remains an intransigent obstacle to peace and stability, Iran is being dealt with in a way that respects the reality of the situation.
Cross-posted from The Reaction.