Don't count on regime change to stop Iran's nuclear program

It’s certainly possible that the Iranian regime will fall sometime soon (and if it did it would not be soon enough). Practically every time the Iranian public has had the chance to express itself in the past couple of decades—even given the limited choices made available by the regime—it seems to vote for candidates who most represent change, an encouraging sign that should be troubling to the Islamic Republic’s leaders. And the demonstrations that spread across large numbers of Iranian cities earlier this year—which seem to have started out as protests against economic conditions and then morphed into attacks on the regime itself—must be also be causing some sleepless nights for leaders in Tehran. I applaud the courageous Iranian women and men who are risking their freedom and even their lives to oppose the regime’s corruption, economic mismanagement, and social repression.

These are all positive developments, but I think that to leap from noting encouraging signs of public discontent to expecting that the Islamic Republic is on its last legs would be a case of relying on hope over experience. Indeed, how is it that some critics of the nuclear deal have gone from insisting that 10-15 year restrictions on uranium enrichment bought nowhere near enough time for potential political change in Iran, but now seem to be suggesting that regime change could be just around the corner? Last October President Trump claimed that the nuclear deal “threw Iran’s dictatorship a political and economic lifeline,” but now we are supposed to believe that the regime is in its dying days? If anything, far from lifting pressure on the regime as Trump insisted, the nuclear deal seems to have undermined the regime by raising public expectations that it could not meet and taking away its ability to blame others for its poor economic performance. That seems to me to be a win-win policy proposition. If change in Iran is possible, and the JCPOA not only doesn’t prevent it but might even promote it, doesn’t it make sense to keep that agreement in place?

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