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In Iran, It’s the Guys With the Guns Who Call the Shots

Talking to Michael Rubin about his new book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging with Rogue Regimes.

9:31 AM, Feb 22, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
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Rogues can differ in ideology and structure: Qaddafi’s Libya, Saddam’s Iraq, Khamenei’s Iran, and Kim Jong-un’s North Korea are obviously different. What makes Iran so dangerous is both its messianic ideology and the effective autonomy of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Most Iranians are wonderful and care little for their regime. But it’s not ordinary Iranians who matter when it comes to the issues of greatest concern to the international community: It’s the guys with the guns who call the shots. And the sad thing is that despite tens of billions of dollars the intelligence community has spent, we still have no idea about who believes what among the IRGC. This is even more dangerous because if Iran develops nuclear weapons, not only the IRGC but its most ideologically pure members would have command and control over the nuclear arsenal.

Were sanctions ever really capable of stopping Iran from getting the bomb?

The Iranian Statistics Agency reported that the Iranian economy shrank 5.4 percent in the year before the latest diplomatic love affair began. No, sanctions alone would not have stopped Iran from getting the bomb, but they must be part of a comprehensive strategy. The basic problem we now have is that—for the last couple decades—we’ve gotten into the habit of sequencing strategies rather than employing them all at once. We try to talk first. If that doesn’t work, maybe we’ll impose sanctions. Every president will pay lip service to military action as a last resort. What we need to do is employ a comprehensive strategy that combines economic coercion and military pressure with diplomacy. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Alas, rather than seek to maximize leverage, the State Department too often treats it as a dirty word.

(You can follow Michael Rubin @mrubin1971.)

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