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February 28, 2007

Is Iran an "unstoppable train?"

This article appeared on MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

Just days after the United Nations declared that Iran failed to comply with a Security Council resolution demanding that Iran cease its uranium enrichment activities, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remarked, “Iran’s nuclear program is an unstoppable train without brakes.”

The Iranian “nuclear energy” program, which most analysts believe is a cover for a weapons development effort, is complemented by continued ballistic missile development. Last week, Iran announced that it had launched a rocket into earth orbit - nothing more than a test of long-range multi-stage missile. Iran has constantly reported developments and acquisitions of new and improved naval and air defense weapons.

In Iraq, American forces have detained members of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps special operations unit, the Qods (Jerusalem) Force. Iran is providing advanced weaponry to Shia militias, weapons that are killing American troops.

Against this backdrop, the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany are discussing how to deal with this “unstoppable train.” The obvious next step will be tougher sanctions, assuming that the Russians and Chinese agree – they basically gutted the sanctions effort two months ago.

It is doubtful stricter sanctions on Tehran will work, especially against a country that sits on the world’s second largest proved oil reserves and is OPEC’s number two oil exporter. As long as the world runs on oil, Iran will be difficult to cow. The world needs energy and will buy it. Taking almost four million barrels of crude per day off the world oil market is not likely to happen.

Assuming sanctions will not be effective in deterring Iran’s nuclear program, what’s next? We’re a long way from the military option, but the Iranians would be well-advised to realize that a military option down the track is a real possibility.

There is real discontent inside Iran. That discontent comes not only from the minority Azeri, Kurd, Arab and Baluch minorities, all of which have nationalist aspirations, but from the majority Persian population as well. The Persians fear that Ahmadinejad’s taunting of the West will further isolate Iran, viewed by many as a pariah state already. It is this fear that dealt a real blow to Ahmadinejad’s favored candidates in the recent municipal elections. The people are also blaming high unemployment and inflation on Ahmadinejad’s disastrous economic policies.

We should be, and probably are, cultivating these seeds of discontent. Radio broadcasts to these groups have struck a chord, evidenced by continued protests from the Iranian government. We should continue to drive a wedge between the government of Iran and the people of Iran – after all, this is not a government of the people.

Our objective should not be to change the regime, but to change its behavior. If the Iranian people want to change the regime, that should be up to them.