Thursday, February 03, 2005

A Fist Full of Dollars: The Best Way to Change Regimes in Iran

I found this after I was inspired by the State of the Union Address. It's an interesting proposal:

Commentary, Shahla Azizi,
Pacific News Service, Feb 01, 2005

TEHRAN--Everyone here is wondering whether President George Bush's threats of military action against Iran are real or just rhetoric. But if Bush is serious about regime change in Iran, he should try the power of the bribe.

Iran's insistence on continuing uranium enrichment -- apparently suspended while negotiations continue with the IAEA -- likely poses more of a threat to the world in Bush's mind than did Saddam Hussein's imaginary WMDs. But military action is not the way to bring about regime change here.

The United States should look at history in order to learn how to deal with Iran. In the CIA-backed coup of 1953, when the popular nationalist Mohammad Mossadegh was ousted and the Shah reinstated on the throne, the Americans succeeded with literally a fist full of dollars. Estimates of the cost of the covert Operation Ajax, including the bribes, range from $200,000 to $20 million. Senior CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt (grandson of Teddy) was assigned to overthrow the democratically elected prime minister. He succeeded mainly by bribing influential figures, staging street violence and planting false stories in the newspapers.

With 70 percent of civil servants living below the poverty line (a conservative government estimate), money is the best way to penetrate Iran. If the United States just spent a small portion of its military budget in Iraq on bribes in Iran, the regime would crumble.

From a distance, Hezbollah zealots may seem too idealistic to be bought. But those of us who live here know that every little infraction can be overlooked after a small bribe. If I am caught with alcohol on my breath, for example, I know a bribe is the easiest way out. There are not many here who cannot be bought, even among the hardcore conservative supporters of the regime. Very few religious zealots here are true believers like those of Al Qaeda. Zealotry, being state sanctioned, has become false.

The regime is very unpopular. Its foot-soldiers, the Ansar Hezbollah and the Bassij forces, are not invited to share the enormous wealth that the elite mullahs have amassed. The majority of the very small number of people loyal to the regime are poor. The economic system only allows a very few at the top to become rich. Even the theological students of Qom, who are to form the next generation of mullahs, have voiced their disappointment with the rampant nepotism and corruption that exist at the top levels of the theocracy.

The reformists, who won the previous presidential elections, were so impotent in the face of the unelected Guardian Council and those who wield real power, like the millionaire-mullah Rafsanjani, that the people have lost all hope of changing things democratically. Many of the 80-plus percent who voted for Mohammad Khatami, the reformist president, now look for outside help to rid the country of the mullahs. The majority of the population consists of under-25-year-olds who are frustrated and unhappy, and who use the Internet and satellite TV as outlets. Universities are over-crowded and the unemployment rate surpasses 20 percent.

Opposition leaders, university activists, journalists and bloggers who have dared voice criticism of the regime are in jail. Iranians desire a regime change but feel impotent to bring it about themselves. Most would welcome the help of the United States.

The security forces and the vigilante groups can be bought to look the other way when people revolt. Street uprisings can be provoked with the use of Iranian opposition satellite T.V based in Los Angeles, which has a huge following here and has played a big role in uprisings in the recent past. Important players in the armed forces can be bribed and promised amnesty if they side with the people, or, with the right amount of money, even encouraged to stage a coup. Iran, unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, has a full-fledged opposition movement already demanding a referendum to change the constitution. American dollars would fuel it and give it the tools and courage necessary to act.

The regime is so unpopular, so ready to fall, that instead of military action, spending a little money to buy some key figures and its foot soldiers is the simplest, cheapest and most efficacious way to bring about change in Iran.

PNS contributor Shahla Azizi is a Western-educated Iranian American who lives in Tehran with her two children. Her name has been changed.


At 11:37 PM, Blogger The Green Man said...

Isn't the author afraid that getting the U.S. involved like they were in 1953 would produce a result similar to the one in 1953? I don't think of the Shah as a big success, either for Iran or for the United States.

The points about the government being in need of a good Reform are well-taken, and she's probably correct to say it would be cheaper to help that along with some well-placed spending than with military action.

The root of any successful regime change, though, is in the hearts of the people. The key to success is not bribing officials to defect, it's setting up an alternative and showing that it's better.

I still think America's Founders laid out the plan for this. Don't wait for the mullahs to say it's OK to vote for opposition candidates; hold elections and send the representatives you choose. If the Guardian Council is able to prevent them from meeting in the parliament building, get together and meet somewhere else. Don't wait for permission to write a new Constitution, get together an assembly and write it.

Ultimately, the guys who say they're in charge can only stay in charge if people go along with their wishes. Win over the local policeman to your cause, and he won't bust you for having a meeting. Win over the guys in the Army, and they won't break up your Congress.

If you make the Mullahs irrelevant, they'll come to terms. Every remaining European Monarchy is a testament to this. You don't need the military force to rise up and kill those guys, you just need enough collective Will to ignore their demands. Build your coalition and set up the government you want. If the majority of the country likes it better and follows it, you've already won.

At 4:39 AM, Blogger House of babble said...

I'm all for it. However what do you think we would hear from the media and the left if the operation were uncovered?

At 7:25 AM, Blogger Markkind said...

Probably the same as we're hearing now, "we're the problem, we're imperialists, we're insuating our will on others, blah blah blah." It's kind of the good thing about Bush, he doesn't listen to the media or reason, he just does what he or someone in his cabinet feels is right.

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At 8:38 AM, Blogger Joe Caggiano said...

The biggest difference from 1953 in Nukes. If the mullahs are pressured from their own people they will blame our underhanded involvement (I'm for it though)and openly threaten us. There are always these atempts made and I'm sure we are embarking on the road you have mentioned here. We have been blamed for not using deplomecy long enough in Iraq (9 years is enough for me) So we begin in earnest with Iran and continue with North Korea. Libs will always say we have not done enough but Mr. Bush or a well informed president of the future will decide when the threat is real then military action will be discussed. Until then they will see preveously opressed people vote for their leaders in a open society and begin to shape a better future that includes their wants and desires. Freedom yurns in the spirit of humans no matter what country they are in.

At 3:19 PM, Blogger The Green Man said...

Wait a minute, Markkind. Did you really just say the good thing about Bush is that he doesn't listen to reason? Are you really saying that doing the right thing isn't reasonable? You honestly prefer leaders who rule by impulse and prejudice? I kind of thought that was the big downfall of Kings and the whole "Monarchy" concept - too arbitrary, changed with the moods, people didn't know what to expect, no way for regular folks to have a say in what went on... I don't really want to go back to that as a form of Government. I'm guessing that's not what you're suggesting, but I don't think I follow you here.

At 10:17 PM, Blogger Markkind said...

I was being somewhat sarcastic. My point was that Bush does not let popularity sway him the way Clinton did. I think he makes the best decisions based on what the people around him tell him.

At 7:21 PM, Blogger The Green Man said...

Whoops. I must have had my sarcasm detector turned off.

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