Some prominent opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—as the nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic is formally called—have argued that the U.S. should keep the deal, enforce it rigorously, and at the same time work to push back against Iranian troublemaking throughout the Middle East. Robert Joseph dissents:
[Such an] approach could easily become a quagmire, as questions of compliance with arms-control agreements such as the JCPOA are inherently legalistic, lengthy, and political. Inevitably, it would lead to an entangling debate over whether Iran’s violations are “minor” or rise to the level of material breach. Whatever the outcome, the time lost would be profoundly detrimental to U.S. security interests. If President Trump does not act decisively to end participation in the JCPOA, the near-future is clear: Iran will be the next North Korea, a dangerous adversary on the brink of acquiring a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile.
In place of the JCPOA, the United States must develop and implement a comprehensive strategy of containment and regime change from within. . . . [This] is not a call to replace diplomacy with war, as alarmists will argue. Rather, as it was with the Soviet Union for decades in the cold war, [this strategy] is perhaps the only means to deal effectively with the threat the Islamic Republic poses.
The misplaced hope has long been that the regime will become more moderate or that we will identify a moderate faction within the regime and encourage it to move the country in a positive direction. . . . [But it] is a regime that will not change and cannot change because change would lead to its downfall.
The key is to support change from within—something that was ruled out by the Obama administration. The United States cannot impose change from the outside but it can assist internal change and those popular forces that can bring it about. U.S. policy should give hope and sustenance to the opposition forces in Iran that support democracy, human rights, and a secular government focused not on repression, missiles, and nuclear weapons but on the needs and aspirations of its people.
Despite the propaganda from Tehran’s apologists, this is a weak regime with little popular support. Like other repressive regimes, it is brittle and will—one day—crumble to the will of its citizens. President Trump must work to accelerate its fall.