Ever since last June's disputed presidential election, Iran has been in the throes of change, with the nascent "green movement" protesting against an ever-more-authoritarian state. For months, Washington has asked itself: Should the United States actively push for regime change? Torn between the fear of ending up on the wrong side of history by being too cautious and the fear of ending up undermining the pro-democracy movement by being too aggressive, Barack Obama's administration is playing a difficult balancing act.
History shows that intervention is easier said than done. Past U.S. attempts to sway Iranian internal affairs—such as the CIA-fomented 1953 coup d'état against a democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh—have proven costly for U.S. interests. Most notably, Washington's support for the shah fueled the 1979 Islamic Revolution, inspiring anti-Western movements in Pakistan, Egypt, and beyond.
To make matters worse, due to its absence from the scene during the last 30 years, the United States is not sufficiently equipped to understand and shape what appears to be a titanic struggle between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his opponents.
But between the extremes of doing nothing and doing everything, there is a middle ground....
The remainder of this op-ed can be found at www.foreignpolicy.com.
Alireza Nader is an international affairs analyst at the RAND Corporation and co-author of Mullahs, Guards, and Bonyads: An Exploration of Iranian Leadership Dynamics. Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council and the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.
This commentary originally appeared on Foreign Policy on February 9, 2010. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.