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Michael Flynn’s Dangerous Goal of Regime Change

Christopher Fettweis reviews Flynn and Ledeen’s Field of Fight. Here he comments on their fixation on Iran:

Although regime change in Iran is the central goal of the global war on terror, Flynn and Ledeen do not advocate military action. Instead they believe that the task can be accomplished politically, by lending support to the internal Iranian opposition. The Soviet Union was brought down internally, after all, so why not Iran?

<figcaption>Illustration: Winai Tepsuttinun / shutterstock</figcaption>
Illustration: Winai Tepsuttinun / shutterstock

How exactly the United States could trigger the collapse of the Iranian regime without sparking a war is left to the imagination of the reader. Flynn and Ledeen are uninterested in details. Instead we are told that it would take only determination and courage to motivate the Iranian people to send the Mullahs into oblivion [bold mine-DL], without having to fire a shot. Failure to enable 2009’s “Green Revolution” is, by their estimation, one of President Obama’s many unforgivable decisions.

Even if it were desirable to destabilize yet another country in the region, this shows just how deluded Flynn and Ledeen are when it comes to achieving their goal of regime change. First, they assume that Iranians would cooperate in pursuing a goal that most of them don’t actually support. They mistakenly view the election protests of 2009-2010 as a movement aimed at overthrowing the regime, but it was something quite different and had the goal of reforming the existing system. Flynn and Ledeen fault the U.S. for not doing more to help that movement, but this wrongly assumes that the movement’s leaders wanted U.S. help (they didn’t) and that U.S. assistance would be useful to them (it wouldn’t have been). They assume they know what most Iranians want, but ignore their enduring resentment against foreign interference in their politics generally and hostility to American interference in particular. They also make a typical hawkish mistake in both grossly exaggerating the threat from a foreign regime and assuming that eliminating that threat will be easy and cheap. This is all consistent with the shoddy analysis we have seen from other parts of their book, and it confirms that Trump is going to be getting some very bad advice from his top security adviser.

In addition to all of their errors of analysis, Flynn and Ledeen have the wrong goal. If the U.S. tried to do what Flynn and Ledeen want, it would increase regional tensions and hurt the Iranian opposition. Neither the U.S. nor most Iranians would benefit from this, but it would strengthen the hand of regime hard-liners. It would give those hard-liners a ready-made excuse for increased repression, and would increase the likelihood of armed conflict over the longer term. When our government has made regime change in another country the official policy in the past, it has usually not been long before force is used to achieve it. A war with Iran might not come right away, but if Flynn convinces Trump that regime change should be the goal of our policy it becomes much more likely in the future.

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