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Takeyh: Time to Challenge the Legitimacy of the "Islamic Republic"

10:04 AM, Dec 31, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Obama doesn't like to challenge the legitimacy of despots, thus the repeated calls for a relationship with Iran based on "mutual respect" and the use of the regime's preferred name, the Islamic Republic. But Ray Takeyh, who served in the Obama State Department as an aide to Dennis Ross on Iran policy and was earlier this year a vocal proponent of Obama's engagement policy, is now singing a different tune in the face of that country's continued unrest. In a Washington Post op-ed today, Takeyh writes:

As the United States and its allies wrestle with the issue of Iran's nuclear program, they would be wise to recognize the changes to the context in which their policy was framed. The Obama administration should take a cue from Ronald Reagan and persistently challenge the legitimacy of the theocratic state and highlight its human rights abuses. The notion that harsh language militates against a nuclear accord is false. At this juncture, the only reason Tehran may be receptive to an agreement on the nuclear issue is to mitigate international pressures while it deals with its internal insurrection. Even if the regime accommodates international concerns about its nuclear program, the United States must stand firm in its support for human rights and economic pressure against the Revolutionary Guards and other organs of repression. And Tehran's clerical rulers should know that in no uncertain terms. Reagan had no compunction about denouncing the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" while concluding arms control treaties with the Kremlin. The Islamic Republic, like the Soviet Union, is a transient phenomenon. America's embrace of individual sovereignty will place it on the right side of history as the fortunes of history inevitably change.

It's a big deal that a person who was earlier this year charged with crafting Obama's engagement policy is now rebuking that policy because of new facts on the ground -- the regime is weak and illegitimate even in the eyes of its own people. The Senate is expected to pass new sanctions on Iran shortly after it begins its new session on January 17. Perhaps that will serve as the impetus for a "hard pivot" in the administration's approach to Iran. Or perhaps we will continue to see the Obama administration working to bolster a dying regime, sending John Kerry to Tehran to lend the regime credibility, and "bearing witness" to the regime's crimes even as it props it up by referring to it as an Islamic Republic when it is anything but.