Why sanctions won't bring about regime change in Iran

So one key premise of regime change–that the will of a new democratic government would align with the will of regime-change boosters–is dubious even if you assume that greens would be the dominant force in this government. And that assumption, in turn, has two problems of its own: (1) Those 2009 opinion polls showed greens to be in the minority, outnumbered by Ahmadinejad supporters; so even if you ensured fair elections, and restructured Iranian democracy so that the elected president was truly the country’s supreme leader, that wouldn’t mean greens ran the show; (2) How would you ensure fair elections and restructure Iranian democracy in the first place?

After all, when you induce regime change by tightening sanctions to the choking point, you don’t get to micro-manage the transition. Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz, champions of regime change, recently wrote that “through sanctions, a democratic counterrevolution in Persia might be reborn.” Yes, it might. And through rolling a pair of dice, doubles might be born. But at least as likely as a smooth transition to a truer democracy is a civil war in which lots of people die. (When will neocons–and for that matter liberal hawks–learn that authoritarian leaders, though we may call them “autocrats,” usually have a large constituency that sees itself as benefiting from their rule and will fight on their behalf?) Among the things that could follow a civil war are more authoritarian rule and regional conflagration. And, as long as we’re on the subject of human suffering: How much misery winds up getting inflicted on innocent people before an economic chokehold leads to regime change in the first place?