Hearing before the
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
January 31, 2007
A Congressman from California, and
Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs
REP. TOM LANTOS (D-CA): The Committee on Foreign Affairs will come to order.
This is our second hearing on Iran in a series of hearings during the course of which we will combine practical, political decision- makers in the field, as we had last week with former Undersecretary of State Pickering and former Director of the CIA James Woolsey. Today we are fortunate to have two outstanding academicians who have made the study of Iran the central focus of their scholarly pursuit, and we are delighted to welcome them.
Having just returned from a trip to the Middle East with Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic national security leadership, it is clear to me that Iran and its nuclear ambitions are central to our interests and concerns in this vital region. The intentions and possible future actions of Iran are very much on the minds of top leaders in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with whom we met. They shared their great concern regarding Iran's growing influence in the area and what everyone believes to be its quest for nuclear weapons.
A world with a nuclear-armed Iran would be a very different world. It would be a world in which Tehran, without firing a shot, would be able to intimidate and bully its neighbors, including many who today are allies of the United States. It is clear that Iran's neighbors know this, and, for the most part, they are terrified by the prospect.
We must know all we can about Iran's capabilities and intentions, because we must prevent the development of a nuclear-armed Iran. At the same time, we must act very carefully in this sensitive and important region, which is already in deep upheaval because of our Iraq policy.
Iran is growing increasingly arrogant about its ability to act with impunity. Last June the Permanent 5 members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany offered a very generous package of incentives to Tehran to suspend its nuclear program. Iran merely shrugged it off. In July the Security Council issued an ultimatum to Tehran: Suspend your uranium enrichment activities within one month or face sanctions. Iran blithely ignored that threat as well and continued with enrichment.
Nothing that happened subsequently shook Tehran's faith in its ability to continue its cynical kabuki dance. Russia and China raised one roadblock after another. The Security Council failed to impose sanctions within one month, or even two. Instead, it wrangled for five long months before producing a pathetic set of sanctions that will do little or nothing to deter Iran's reckless pursuit of nuclear arms.
Meanwhile, the Chinese and the Iranians announced a preliminary agreement worth some $16 billion for Chinese investment in an Iranian natural gas field. On Monday of this week, Royal Dutch Shell announced the signing of a preliminary multibillion dollar deal with Iran to develop adjacent gas properties.
The recently announced $16 billion oil and gas deal between Iran and Malaysia is equally abhorrent. That is why today I am sending a letter to our trade representative, Susan Schwab, requesting that all negotiations between the United States and Malaysia on a free trade agreement be suspended until Malaysia renounces this proposed deal.
At a time when we and the United Nations should be imposing sanctions upon Iran for its nuclear activities, Asian and European companies are signing lucrative contracts to provide massive additional revenues to fuel Iran's search for nuclear weapons. If we permit this kind of heedless and mindless avarice, it will be at the world's peril.
This past week, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, revealed that within a few weeks Iran intends to begin construction of a new underground plant for uranium enrichment. Once again, Iran has thumbed its nose at the international community.
Given the urgency of our concerns with Iran, we must use every tool in our diplomatic arsenal. The most basic is dialogue. I am passionately committed to dialogue with those countries with which we disagree. Dialogue does not mean appeasement or defeat. Dialogue represents our best opportunity to persuade, as well as our best opportunity to determine if we have failed to persuade.
For over a decade I have sought opportunities to meet with the Iranian leadership in Tehran. My friend Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general, and Jan Eliasson, the last president of the U.N. General Assembly and foreign minister of Sweden, have both attempted to persuade the authorities that an open dialogue with members of Congress is in our mutual interest. All of our approaches have so far been rebuffed.
The Iranian people deserve leaders who are worthy of Iran's noble traditions and their country's importance. I am cautiously encouraged that Ahmadinejad has recently suffered a triple whammy: a resounding defeat of his party in local elections; a harsh letter of rebuke from a majority of the Iranian parliament; and a denunciation of his diplomacy by the newspaper considered as the mouthpiece of Iran's supreme leader Khamenei.
In short, this is a critically important time for us to make progress in dealing with the nuclear ambitions of Iran. And it may be that conditions in Iran are right to make steps forward.
Now I urge all of my colleagues to read very carefully the submitted testimony of our three distinguished witnesses in toto. These three papers represent a kaleidoscope of views concerning this unbelievably complex country.
We are cautioned in their statements about falling victim to the Chalabi syndrome, the experience we had with respect to Iraq. They are cautioning against a grand bargain with the mullahs whereby we would overlook the human rights abuses and the nuclear plans for the appearance of a surface relationship.
They correctly point out that Iran is a despotic theocracy and -- and here I quote -- "a theocracy despite incompetence, morally bankrupt and bereft of legitimacy.
" They are cautioning about the presence of a messianic clergy, and some of the leadership which believes in the imminent return of the Mahdi, the 12th Imam of Shi'a, who had gone into occultation a thousand years ago.
Yet at the same time they correctly point out that the vast majority of the Iranian people despise the theocratic rulers and show their distrust through both capital flight and an enormous brain drain. And one of our witnesses calls for dramatic changes in our public diplomacy policy vis-a-vis that country. I am deeply grateful for their three powerful papers.
And I am now delighted to turn to the distinguished chairman of the subcommittee, who may have to leave because of votes in the Banking Committee.
REP. GARY L. ACKERMAN (D-NY): I thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the distinguished ranking member for her collegiality.
Even as American troops are now engaging in seizures of Iranian agents in Iraq, and an additional carrier battle group is being dispatched to the Persian Gulf, the Bush administration remains stuck behind the idea that diplomacy is equivalent to appeasement, and that negotiation is akin to surrender. Consequently, with regard to Iran, we seem determined to achieve the worst of all policy outcomes.
While the White House intones that, quote, "all options are on the table," unquote, the military facts of life argue otherwise. Our armed forces, especially our Army and Marine Corps, are operating on the edge of their capacity. While the Air Force and Navy remain capable of conducting a robust conventional bombing campaign, I remain skeptical that they would be able to strike all the key components of Iran's nuclear program.
Many facilities are extremely well-protected, some are buried, others are hardened, some have all of these features. More troubling, based on recent history, I think prudence demands that we assume there are both facilities we have not yet identified and facilities we have misidentified. Moreover, we have scarcely considered the full nature and extent of Iran's presence in Iraq, and what capabilities it has to make mischief in other parts of the Middle East, or the rest of the globe.
Although our military options are dismal, the Bush administration seems intent on charging full speed ahead towards confrontation. If we had a credible diplomatic alternative that we were pushing the Iranians towards, such gambling might make sense. Without a diplomatic backstop, however, it is merely reckless.
Without question, face-to-face dialogue, as the chairman has suggested, with the Iranians would be difficult, unpleasant, and I believe also likely to fail. However, if there are no talks, a negotiated resolution of either the Iranian nuclear problem or the instability and violence in Iraq is essentially impossible.
I would add here that this administration's incessant practice of subcontracting to other countries the most vital question of our national security represents one of the most egregious and shameful failures in the history of American foreign policy.
Achieving success in negotiations with Iran may not be possible. But without making the attempt, without demonstrating that America is doing its utmost to resolve these regional crises -- apart from applying more and more force -- our ability to attract and hold allies will be greatly diminished. Other nations expect us to lead, not to lecture. Painful as it may be for some to acknowledge, the United States has a credibility problem.
There once was a Republican president who warned us to "speak softly, but carry a big stick." Instead of blustering about Iran while hollowing out our military in Iraq, we need to get serious about achieving some of the very simple but difficult goals: first, bringing our catastrophic adventure in Iraq to a conclusion that will not turn Iraq's civil war into a regional war; second, restoring the strength and credibility of our already overextended armed forces; and, third, engaging our European allies in a strategic plan to convince Iran that its best interests require a satisfactory resolution to the nuclear issue. Anyone who believes we can achieve any of this agenda without engaging the Iranians ourselves on the fundamental questions of regional security is fooling himself.
I hope today's panel will illustrate for us how Iran sees the world, where its vulnerabilities lie, and how we can best achieve security in the Persian Gulf region for ourselves and our allies and in and around the world.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. LANTOS: Thank you, Mr. Ackerman.
It is now my great pleasure to turn to my good friend, the distinguished ranking member of the committee, Congresswoman Ros- Lehtinen. She is the author of the Iran Freedom Support Act, which Congress adopted last September. I was very pleased to work with her in developing that important legislation. She has been one of the foremost leaders in the Congress in our effort to deal with Iran.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R-FL): Thank you so much, Mr. Lantos, and I congratulate you on the trip that you took, just came back yesterday, with Speaker Pelosi and the chairman, Chairman Skelton, and Mr. Murtha and others. And we in our committee look forward to getting briefed by you on that trip to Iraq, to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
And I'd like to also thank our distinguished panelists for appearing before us today.
Creating an effective, long-term strategy regarding Iran is one of the highest priorities in the United States. The regime has called, as all of us know, for Israel to be wiped off the map. It continues to refer to the United States as the "Great Satan." And it hosted a conference that was so appalling, aimed at denying the Holocaust.
Iran's aggressive words, however, are not mere rhetoric. Iran is the number one state sponsor of terrorism, enabling the murder of countless innocent civilians, endangering international security by supplying weapons, funding, training and sanctuary to terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran continues to supply the Shi'ite Islamist groups in Iraq with money, training and weapons, such as the improvised explosive devices, the IEDs, that are used to target U.S. coalition troops in Iraq. Iran's support for these extremist groups is a major factor in the sectarian strife and attacks taking place in Iraq.
If we fail in Iraq, Iran will be liberated to dominate the oil- producing Persian Gulf and increase its support for Islamist militant extremists, thereby spreading instability throughout the region. Iran's self-proclaimed goal is the promotion of an Islamist revolution worldwide. Ahmadinejad made the following statement just a few weeks ago: "We must believe in the fact that Islam is not confined to geographical borders, ethnic groups and nations. It is a universal ideology. We do not shy away from declaring that Islam is ready to rule the world. We must prepare ourselves to rule the world."
As the entire world knows, Iran has embarked on a major program to develop nuclear weapons, which threatens to radically transform the balance of power in the Middle East. Iran's nuclear capabilities would change perceptions of the military balance in the region and could pose serious challenges to the United States in terms of deterrents and defense.
But the threat posed by Iran goes beyond its sponsorship of terror or its pursuit of nuclear weapons, although Iran's leadership has already expressed its willingness to assist other problem countries in obtaining nuclear capabilities. With respect to cooperation between Iran and other terrorist nations, former CIA director Tenet noted in February 2004 Threat Assessment when he briefed Congress: "Iran appears to be willing to supply missile- related technology to countries of concern, and publicly advertises its artillery rockets and related technologies, including guidance instruments and missile propellants."
On chemical weapons, government, private and intelligence sources report that Iran is pursuing a program to develop and stockpile these weapons. Reports state that Iran already may have stockpiled blister, blood, choking and nerve agents and the bombs and artillery shells to deliver them, which they had previously manufactured.
With respect to biological weapons, it has been reported that Iran probably has an offensive biological weapons program, that it continues to seek dual-use material, equipment and expertise which can be used in that program, and that it has the capability to produce at least small weapons of BW agents and a limited ability to weaponize them.
Some have argued that the solution to the Iranian threat is to engage in direct talks with the Iranian regime. I strongly disagree, Mr. Chairman. We must not abandon a longstanding U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists. I believe that engaging Iran without preconditions would embolden our enemies, would legitimize the extremist regime and would allow the Iranian radicals to buy even more time to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Instead, we can persuade our allies to reduce or even halt the range of commercial ties with the Iranian regime. We could deprive Tehran of the revenues it needs to continue its destructive policies. I call upon our European allies and all of the responsible nations to take immediate steps to end investments in Iran's energy sector and to adopt other sanctions to deprive the tyrannical regime of the revenue necessary to pursue their nuclear weapons program.
As part of this effort, my distinguished colleague Chairman Lantos and I authored, as the chairman pointed out, the Iran Freedom Support Act, signed into law in November, and it's already being used to great effect. I also plan to introduce another bill that targets the Iranian elite, which is a critical component of the Iranian economy, its energy sector. Among other provisions, the bill calls for public and private pension and thrift savings plans to divest from U.S. and foreign companies that have invested $200 million or more in that energy sector. I have been working with Chairman Lantos on this measure and hope that we will have an agreement soon so that we may introduce the bill.
I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to secure passage of this and other measures to weaken the regime in Tehran, compel it to permanently cease those activities that pose a threat to U.S. national security, our interests and our allies.
I'd like to thank, once again, our witnesses, and thank you so much, Mr. Chairman, for the time.
REP. LANTOS: Thank you very much.
I'm pleased to recognize Mr. Payne for one minute.
REP. DONALD M. PAYNE (D-NJ): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
And, as we all know, this is a very extremely important hearing today. We realize the importance of our policy towards Iran, and for us to try to come up with some solutions to that problem. So I look forward to hearing the witnesses.
I, too, though, feel that negotiations and discussions are necessary and have a positive feeling towards the United States, by and large. And if there was some way that we could reach the people, I think many of them really reject a hard line. And so before all is lost on aggressive military movement, I would hope that we would have some dual strategies.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll yield back.
REP. LANTOS: Thank you. Thank you very much.
I'm pleased to recognize the distinguished ranking member of the Middle Eastern-South Asia subcommittee, my friend from Indiana, Mr. Pence.
REP. MIKE PENCE (R-IN): I thank the chairman for yielding, and I want to commend the chairman for making this issue and this distinguished panel and hearing a priority for this committee in the 110th Congress.
Like many on this panel, I believe that Iran is the greatest diplomatic challenge facing the United States, and I'm anxious to hear and have appreciated reading the testimony that's been submitted. President Bush's national security strategy from March 2006, I believe, correctly stated, and I quote, "that we may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran." I believe this is a destabilizing rogue state that richly deserved the moniker "axis of evil" that it was awarded during a State of the Union address years ago.
The issues that interest me the most about this panel have to do with the nature of the threat and the nature and the wisdom of what leverage we might bring to confronting that threat. And I hold to the view that when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be, quote, "wiped off the map," and described the Holocaust as a, quote, "myth," and has openly advocated resettling the population of Israel in Europe, that I hold the view that history teaches that when a tyrant speaks of violence against his neighbor, the world is wise to take him at his word. And I am -- I'm very interested in this expert panel's view of the intentions of President Ahmadinejad as well as the government.
Secondly, I'm very interested in recent revelations and news reports that suggest that Iran has been involved in providing technology to improvised explosive devices in Iraq, and personnel.
And, lastly, with regard to the leverage that we might have, important editorial this morning by Thomas Friedman uses the term "leverage." The secretary of State said that before we should sit down, as the ranking member from Florida just stated, that the secretary of State said we should not sit down until we have leverage, she believing that stability in Iraq would represent the strongest leverage, in addition to our military presence in the region, that could move us toward a diplomatic solution. And I'm very interested, having read Mr. Friedman's comments today, having read the testimony, of this panel's view of that.
And, lastly, what we might be able to do, consistent with Mr. Payne's comments about -- from the important legislation, the Iran Freedom Support Act, other legislation that is considered. I think it is imperative that this Congress consider ways that we can further catalyze forces of liberalization and democracy and human rights within Iran itself.
And so I commend this panel, whose credentials cannot be challenged. I look very much forward to the hearing, and I'm grateful to the chairman for arranging this so early in the context of this Congress.
REP. LANTOS: Thank you very much, Mr. Pence.
I'm please to recognize Mr. Sherman for one minute.
REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D-CA): Thank you.
Preventing a nuclear Iran should be our top foreign policy objective. An Iranian government that thought it was about to be overthrown could well smuggle a nuclear weapon into an American city. The outcome in Iraq will have a modest impact on America's long-term national security and cannot be allowed to distract us from the Iranian threat.
Talking about talks to Iran may also be a bit of a distraction. We cannot solve the problem with Iran so painlessly as to simply say, "Well, we'll open discussions and then we will achieve a non-nuclear Iran." Instead, we must be willing to sacrifice other diplomatic and economic priorities if we are to achieve what is most important to us, which is an end to the nuclear program in Iran.
We must put ILSA and other economic pressure from Europe on Iran as our number one policy concern with Europe. And, most importantly, in dealing with Russia, from Jackson-Vanik to Chechnya, the Iran issue must be placed first. Those who think that we can achieve a non- nuclear Iran without mobilizing all of our diplomatic strength, and without sacrificing less important diplomatic objectives, I think are deluding themselves.
REP. LANTOS: Thank you.
REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R-CA): Thank you very much.
And I want to commend Mr. -- I guess Mr. Royce isn't here. I was going to suggest that -- and also Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, but also my friends on the other side of the aisle, who are taking this issue very seriously.
Mr. Sherman has again demonstrated that he has the focus on this particular challenge to our security, and I pay -- paid close attention to what he just had to say.
Let me just note, and I won't be repetitive, just we shouldn't be negotiating from weakness. We must start doing those things that will give us leverage on Iran. Then we can have negotiations. Negotiating from weakness never got us anywhere. I would suggest, however, that that doesn't mean we shouldn't be talking to the Iranians. And I would like the panel's impression of an idea. Perhaps this president, instead of having bilateral negotiations with Iran and Syria, should we have -- shouldn't this president call for a regional summit with the leaders from all of these countries in that region, the region, and sit down and see what would come out of a meeting like that?
I'm looking forward to hearing from you. Thank you very much for listening while we express our opinions.
And thank you to Mr. Lantos for calling this hearing.
REP. LANTOS: Thank you very much.
REP. DIANE E. WATSON (D-CA): I want to thank the chairman also for bringing these distinguished gentlemen here. I think dialogue is very much called for at this point. From what I'm gathering, a military success will do nothing -- nothing -- to settle the cultural issues that are creating much of the conflict in Iraq. And it's been said that much of the violence is being instigated now by Iran.
So I sense a creeping effect, that we are creeping in closer to conflict with Iran. We have ships over in the water. We have submarines over off the coast. Anyone who doesn't know that has been from that place called Pluto. This creeping approach is very, very dangerous, because I see what happened in Korea happening in Iran.
So what we need, Mr. Chairman, is a multilateral discussion with all of the countries surrounding and attached at the border to Iraq, because what happens in Iraq affects all of that region. And these talks must -- must -- include Syria and Iran. It is shortsighted not to sit down and talk with them. Oh, we can think and try to project what they're thinking. And we don't do it from weakness.
REP. LANTOS: The gentlelady's time has expired.
REP. WATSON: All right. Thank you.
REP. LANTOS: Mr. Royce?
REP. EDWARD R. ROYCE (R-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Wimbush has a withering critique of Radio Farda, our efforts to communicate with the Iranian people. And he makes a very strong case that these -- these efforts, frankly, are becoming counterproductive, as he says, "filling up the airways with Britney Spears." He says that America has no ideas of value, and that we don't trust the Iranian listeners to distinguish intelligent debate from pop culture pap.
And I know that you, Mr. Chairman, and Ranking Member Ros- Lehtinen, have shown leadership on Iran. And I think we all agree that we need to be making our best efforts on public diplomacy when it comes to Iran, and I'd hope that this committee would give a very hard look at this broadcasting, getting a better read if this is how we should be doing business. I also agree with many of the other comments here about keeping the financial pressure up on Ahmadinejad's government. It is having a positive effect.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. LANTOS: Thank you.
REP. BOB INGLIS (R-SC): Mr. Chairman, I'm look forward to hearing the witnesses, and am happy to yield back.
REP. LANTOS: Mr. Poe?
REP. TED POE (R-TX): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
All of the options before us are mainly dealing with talk -- talk and more talk and more talk -- on different fronts. Although talking is important, meanwhile, the Iranian government progresses into being a nuclear power. I would like to know when the talks are going to end and we get a solution. I know all the options are difficult for us, but we need some kind of timetable on when are we going to reach some kind of consensus on how we're going to deal with this nuclear threat. Meanwhile, I hope that the Iranian people see the error of the ways of their president and try to put him under some type of control that only the people of any nation can do.
I look forward to all of your testimony.
Thank you very much.
REP. LANTOS: Any other members?
If not, we have an exceptionally talented, respected and widely published group of Iran experts with us today to explain contemporary Iran's domestic politics and foreign policy dynamics.
Dr. Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow in Middle East studies, Council on Foreign Relations, here in Washington. He holds a doctorate in Modern History from Oxford, and the author most recently of a book entitled "Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic."
Dr. Abbas Milani is the director of Iranian studies and professor of political science at Stanford. Along with Larry Diamond and Michael McFaul, he is also co-director of the Hoover Institution's Iran Democracy Project, which produced a policy paper a little over a year ago entitled "Beyond Incrementalism: A New Strategy for Dealing with Iraq."
Mr. Enders Wimbush is senior fellow and director of the Center for Future Security Strategies at the Hudson Institute. Before joining Hudson, he was -- he spent 10 years in the private sector as an officer with Booz Allen Hamilton, prior to which he served as director of Radio Liberty Munich from 1987 to 1993.
We want to thank all our witnesses for taking the time to join us, and we will begin with Dr. Milani.
Co-Director of the Iranian Democracy Project,
Hoover Institution, Stanford University
MR. MILANI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm very honored to be here.
I think there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the United States does need to have a strategy for dealing with Iran. Iran is a key player in the Middle East. But I also think there is little doubt that the United States, unfortunately, has not had a strategy in dealing with Iran for the last 25 years. The United States has been in a reactive mode, has been going from one tactical response to another, and, as a consequence, it is now forced to play a catch-up game.
And discussing Iran now, I think, comes at a very important juncture, because we have two presidents, both under pressure at home. Both presidents have gone from heights of popularity to serious political problems at home. Both President Bush and Mr. Ahmadinejad now face problems within their own constituency, within their own country.
And we have two countries that are certainly divided in terms of what to do with the other one. The elite in Iran, the political leadership in Iran, is certainly of not one view. I think it would be gravely mistaken to assume that there is a monolithic Iranian ruling elite that has one opinion about what to do.
It is even a graver mistake, I think, to assume that Mr. Ahmadinejad is the one that calls all the shots. Mr. Ahmadinejad's popularity in the West is far more than his power at home. By constitution, by practice in Iran, he holds little power. But the popularity, the rock star treatment that he was afforded when he came here, in fact, enhanced his power in Iran. But that enhancement was, fortunately, temporary.
There are those in Washington that think that the nuclear issue in Iran has a military solution.
There are also some who think, and most of them are in the same camp, that the regime in Iran has a military solution as well, that this is a regime on the brink of collapse, and all the United States has to do is push it a little bit and this regime will fall. The "Chalabi syndrome," unfortunately, has helped some of the advocates of this policy to get a hearing for their wrongheaded and dangerous suggestion.
There are also those who have long argued that this regime is here to stay; there is no way to move it; the United States has to just forget about the human rights issue, make a deal with this regime, give it what it wants, and go on with the business of America. I think that too is wrong. This regime is strategically extremely vulnerable, but tactically extremely nimble. It is tactically entrenched, but is strategically on its way out, because it does not have answers for fundamental problems of the Iranian people. This is a deeply incompetent, corrupt regime.
The idea that dialogue with this regime will enhance its power I think is partly true. It depends what kind of dialogue the United States decides to have. The United States was very capable of having dialogues with Soviet Union and not allow those dialogues to become a force in the hands of the Soviet Union. The reason that that dialogue did not allow the Soviet Union to spin it in its own favor is because the issues of human rights were always on the table, never off the discussion.
The "grand bargainists" who want to make peace with this regime want precisely that option off the table. They say if you bring this issue to the discussion, the Iranians will not show up. Well, my suggestion is that even if they don't show up, still, the attempt to -- the offer to have a dialogue will have very, very positive impacts. It will have positive impacts because I think the Iranian regime is deeply fractured at this moment. Mr. Ahmadinejad has helped bring these fractures to a new level of intensity.
Ahmadinejad has come to power -- I think it's important to understand -- with the help of a very powerful cabal of Revolutionary Guards, and some of the leaders of the Basij. These are street gangs called militia that are the muscles of the regime that the regime uses when it wants to oppress -- suppress demonstrations.
And over the last year, Mr. Ahmadinejad has tried to further entrench himself by giving these people much more in terms of economic windfall. Multibillion dollar no-bid contracts have been given to these people. Nevertheless, because of his odious comments on the Holocaust, for example, because of his odious comments on Israel, because of the success of the United States and its allies to pass the U.N. resolution, Ahmadinejad now finds himself in a deeply isolated position.
As Mr. Chairman referred to the letter, 150 people have signed this letter. There is talk of trying to curtail his presidency. If the United States continues on a path of confrontation, if Iran and the United States come to blows within the next few weeks or months, that would be the greatest bonanza for Mr. Ahmadinejad. A policy that will enhance the hand of intransigent radical elements identified with, allied with Mr. Ahmadinejad, would be a very, very, I think, detrimental policy.
My assumption is that there will not be peace and democracy in the Middle East unless there is peace and democracy in Iran -- in other words, unless this regime is gone. So long as this regime is in power, I think there cannot be peace in the Middle East and there cannot be democracy, because this regime is the source of so much of what is wrong and going on -- what is going on in the Middle East.
But that democracy will have to come from inside Iran. And I think it is extremely dangerous and folly, to be honest, to assume that the Iranian democratic movement is dead, and that it is no longer capable of challenging this regime. The policy that the United States, the strategy that the United States adopts, will be successful if, and to the extent that, it allows these forces, now in retreat, to more openly, directly challenge the United States.
There is a large number of Iranians -- and we have empirical evidence for this; we have polls; we have anecdotal evidence for this -- who are very favorably disposed to the United States. An attack on Iran will, I think, fundamentally change that, and will change the sentiments of the people, and will allow the regime to further consolidate its despotic hold on power.
The United States does have leverage now, and it has had leverage in the last few years. When the war with Iraq began, the United States had an enormous amount of leverage over this regime. The regime in Iran, in the first weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein, was the weakest it had been in 27 years. It was very willing, at that time, to try to find a negotiated solution to its problem. It was willing to make a great number of concessions. But the United States decided not to take that opportunity, not to use the leverage it had then.
Every time, every delay in this attempt to negotiate, I think, will further complicate the role of the United States, further limit the leverage that the United States has. Because, as Mr. Chairman pointed out, the regime was very successful in using the Europeans, using China, using Russia, in buying itself time.
Mr. Rouhani, who was Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, gave a very revealing speech that did not get the attention that I think it deserved. He said: "Our plan was to do a North Korea on the world. We wanted to quietly develop a program and, once we had a fully developed nuclear program, allow the world to face a fait accompli. Libya and the discovery of the A.Q. Khan," he said, "disrupted this program."
But they were helped in those years precisely by, unfortunately, Europe's insistence on putting economic interests over diplomatic, long-term, strategic interests, over human rights interests, over the economic, the democratic future of Iran. Even today, we see already signs that Europe is beginning to crack, that Europe is beginning to talk about changing its tactic.
But the United States' ability to create this coalition, this international coalition, that has brought some pressure -- and the pressure is beginning to have some impact in Iran. The Iranian regime is worried about these resolutions. You can read the Iranian leaders. Rafsanjani just last week said very pointedly that these resolutions are having more damage, and they might do more damage than in fact an invasion will do on Iran.
So very serious, concentrated pressure on the regime, at the same time with the offer -- with the offer to talk about these issues, about all the outstanding issues, including, and always including, the human rights issue of the Iranian people, I think will further weaken Ahmadinejad and his camp and further strengthen the majority, the silent majority in Iran, who want normalized relations with the world, who want to be part of the international community, who are embarrassed by Mr. Ahmadinejad and his anti-Semitism.
I think if you look in the history of the 20th century, Iran has probably one of the best records as a nation in dealing with Israel, in dealing with its Jewish population. Iran as a nation made a very successful attempt to save all of its Jews from the Holocaust. Iran was the first country to establish relations with Israel. And that reflects the sentiments of the Iranian people, and obviously they're embarrassed by a leadership who talks in this irresponsible manner.
Ahmadinejad and his camp will be the only winners of a confrontational policy with the United States. If there is an invasion of Iran, if there is surgical attacks on the nuclear sites -- and, as one honorable member said, there is serious doubt that such an attack will be successful in taking out these sites, because there are so many of them and because they are so fortified -- but if any of these attacks come, I think the hands of Ahmadinejad and his cabal will be extremely consolidated.
And Ahmadinejad does have a policy on what he wants to take Iran long term. Not only he wants to confront the United States in Middle East at every turn, but he also wants to fundamentally realign Iran away from the Western look, so to speak, towards Asia. There is talk of building a pipeline that would connect Iran to China, the multibillion dollar deal that Mr. Chairman pointed to. There's something called about "the Asia look" that is bandied about in Iran.
And if that happens, and this is very much the talk of Ahmadinejad -- Ahmadinejad went to China, tried very actively to join the Shanghai discussions -- if that ultimately comes to pass, there we are talking about a major strategic change in terms of the balance of forces.
And what will help bring that about, I think, is an ascendant Ahmadinejad, an ascendant radical group that is now isolated and is pining for a confrontation with the United States. And the fact that the forces are now so closely face to face, the fact that the United States now has a policy of going after them publicly, makes the likelihood of an unfortunate incident increase, an unfortunate incident that will bring about, I think, a much larger confrontation.
I completely understand Mr. Bush's point that the Iranian network in Iraq has to be stopped. Obviously, the Iranian regime has to be stopped from its shenanigans in Iraq. But I think a much more fruitful policy will be to make this the responsibility of the Maliki government. The United States should expect of Maliki government to disrupt the flow of foreign forces inside Iraq. This will have not only the advantage of showing the rest of the Sunnis in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East that Maliki is not a mere puppet of Iran, but it will also lessen the possibly of a military inadvertent or a desired military confrontation with the United States.
So I think a wise strategy that includes a very credible possibility of using pressure -- military pressure, if need be -- but, at the same time, combined with it a willingness to negotiate, a willingness to talk with the Iranians, is the path that can be most conducive, and is a path that reflects the realities in Iran.
And let me end by saying that I know of not a single Iranian democrat inside Iran who is fighting this regime on a daily basis, whose lives are on the line, who do not favor a dialogue with the United States.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. LANTOS: Thank you very much.
MR. TAKEYH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Over the past couple of years, when I have come to various congressional committees, I have sort of been adept at keeping my remarks to the allotted time. This is another occasion for me to demonstrate that virtuosity today.
REP. LANTOS: We will help you attain that virtuosity. (Laughter.)
Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies,
Council on Foreign Relations
MR. TAKEYH: Thank you.
As I think was mentioned, from proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to terrorism, from human rights to democratization, Iran runs across a wide range of American concerns -- meddle in Iraq, nuclear ambitions, and so forth. I'll refrain my comments on two issues, namely Iran's policy toward Iraq, as I understand it, and its nuclear ambitions, as I understand it, complementing some of the things that Mr. Milani said regarding the internal developments of the country.
As Iraq settles into a sort of a disturbing pattern of violence and disorder, the Islamic Republic has conflicting and, at times, contradictory ambitions next door. I think the overarching goal and priority for Tehran is to prevent Iraq from once more emerging as a military or an ideological threat. Since the end of the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988, an uneasy consensus has evolved within Iran that the cause of Iraq's aggressiveness was the Sunni domination of its politics. Thus, the empowerment of the more friendly Shi'a regime is an essential objective of Iran's strategy.
Given the fears of the spillover of the ongoing civil war and the fragmentation of the country, the Iranian leaders also seek to maintain Iraq's territorial integrity.
Finally, there is the menacing U.S. presence in Iraq, and, contrary to many analyses, I don't believe that Iranians want Americans to stay and bleed in Iraq as a means of detracting them from attacking its own suspected nuclear facilities. I think at this point they want the Americans to leave, and around a gradual timetable or what have you, because they seem to feel that the beast has bled enough, and whatever imperial ambitions Americans might have had has already been beaten out of them, so American presence is relatively superfluous.
Tehran appreciates that a stable Iraq, therefore, in many ways, is the best means of ending the American occupation. These competing objectives have yielded alternative tactics. Iran has been active in subsidizing its Shi'a allies, arming their militias and agitating against the American presence, yet also dispatching economic assistance and calls for stabilization of the country.
I'm not quite certain that achievement of Iranian objectives are contingent on the insurgency or violence, but, frankly, on the unfolding democratic process. In a strange paradox, the Iranian clerical hardliners who, as Mr. Milani said, have done much to suppress the reform movement at home, have emerged as forceful advocates of democracy next door. Indeed, a democratic Iran -- Iraq offers Iran political and strategic advantages.
It certainly will empower the Shi'a community, particularly at the time when that Shi'a community is largely represented by those with close associations and intimate ties with Iraq. It will also yield an Iraq that is weak, with a weak central government and strong promises, and such an Iraq is unlikely to contest Iran's emerging hegemony in the Gulf. In essence, a democratic Iraq will produce an arrangement that would empower the congenial Shi'a population, contain the unruly ambitions of the Kurds and marginalize Iran's Sunni foes.
To some extent, actually, Iran's model of expressing its influence in Iraq is similar to the way Iranians behaved in Lebanon in the early 1980s, another multi-confessional society with a Shi'a population that was largely left out of spoils of power. Iran's strategy in Lebanon, as we know, was to dispatch financial and military assistance to its Shi'a allies as a means of winning hearts and minds, and also preparing that Shi'a community for a potential conflict. And from that particular strategic design, or course, Hezbollah was born.
Iran today is, as in the past, seeking to mobilize and organize the diverse Shi'a communities' forces in Iraq, while not necessarily getting entangled in an altercation with the more powerful United States. That's a very difficult balancing act, as we have seen in the past couple of weeks.
But our concerns with Iran, of course, are not limited to Iraq, and I'll briefly touch on the nuclear issue, which is sort of like quicksand. Every time you think you understand it, it changes.
First of all, the notion of a debate, disagreement and dissent within the Islamic Republic's corridors of power is not necessarily new. I mean, some of the disagreements and editorials and so forth are being presented as fracturing the Iranian political system. The Islamic Republic has been fractured since 1979. Factionalism, competing centers of power, it's just the way this country behaves.
However, today, I believe beyond the evidence of fracturing there is a consensus that has evolved within the regime, namely that Iran should have an advanced nuclear capability with rather sophisticated infrastructure that will offer it an opportunity to cross the nuclear threshold should it make that decision when it reaches that point. Whether Iran will remain satisfied with presumed capability short of actual breakout, as India did prior to 1997, will depend on a range of domestic, international and regional developments.
Certainly, Iran's nuclear ambitions, which predated the life of President Ahmadinejad, go back to the times of -- (inaudible). Nevertheless, they have been hardened as we begin to see the rise of a war generation coming to power. And the defining experience for many of the younger conservatives is not necessarily the revolution itself but the Iran-Iraq war. The international indifference to Saddam's war crimes, Tehran's lack of effective response to Iraq's employment of chemical weapons has led the war generation to perceive that the security of their country has to be predicated on what they do as opposed to global opinion and international treaties.
That legacy of the war reinforces a nationalist narrative that sees America's demand for the relinquishing of Iran's fuel cycle, an implied right, at least, under the NPT, as historically unjust. This is a country that has been historically subject to foreign intervention and imposition of various capitulation treaties; therefore, it is inordinately sensitive of its national prerogatives and perceived sovereign rights.
Iran's rulers today perceive that they are being challenged not because of their provocation or treaty violations, but because of superpower bullying. So, in a rather peculiar manner, the nuclear program and Iran's national identity have become fused in the imagination of the hardliners. Thus, the notion of compromise and acquiescence has rather limited utility to Iran's aggrieved nationalists.
Despite their bitterness and cynicism, Iran's theocratic hardliners are also eternal optimists when it comes to the assumption of the international community and its power. Many conservatives often say that Iran will follow the model of India or Pakistan -- namely, after initial impositional sanctions, an international outcry will soon be followed by acceptance of its new status.
Thus, Tehran would regain its commercial status, which may be lost; commercial treaties, which may be suspended, while maintaining its nuclear program as well. That right and the notion that Iran's mischievous past and its tense relationship with the United States will somewhat militate against international community's acceptance of its nuclear status is lost upon them. However, should that anticipation prove misguided, they are willing to suffer the consequences, to some extent, of the conduct.
So what is to be done? It's a question that is often posed and is never answered satisfactory. It's not going to be answered satisfactory now. It's a rather curious proposition, to me, for those who suggest that American containment policy has succeeded and should continue, while at the same time suggesting that Iran's behavior on nuclear issue, terrorism, human rights, regional activities is becoming worse. Well, if the containment policy has succeeded, it obviously hasn't succeeded on those issues.
Will a policy of dialogue engagement work? I don't think there's an alternative to it. It's not going to be easy to negotiate with the Iranian government when it feels itself as empowered and the United States is at a position of strategic disadvantage that it is today. Twice, Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates have suggested that if we negotiate with Iran today we do so from a position of a supplicant. It's a remarkable statement to be made by the secretary of Defense and secretary of State of a country that routinely calls itself a superpower. Well, if we're a supplicant, we're not a superpower.
And before that, in another context, National Security Adviser Hadley said in The New York Times that we cannot impose "red lines" on North Korea because they keep violating them.
If that's how far we have been debilitated, demoralized, demystified by Iraq, then we should go one step further and relinquish our status as the superpower and what Madeleine Albright in another time used to call the indispensable power, because obviously we have become rather indispensable (sic/dispensable) by the acknowledgements of the administration itself.
The only manner of reversing Iran's misbehavior and tempering its design may be through a negotiated platform. It's not going to be easy, but the alternatives are hard to come by.
And I think I'll stop there, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
REP. LANTOS: Thank you very much.
S. ENDERS WIMBUSH
Director of Center for Future Security Strategies, and
a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute
MR. WIMBUSH: Mr. Chairman, Representative Ros-Lehtinen, members of the committee, I'm honored to be able to testify before you today on this very important issue.
From my perspective as someone who has spent a great deal of his professional life trying to understand how nuclear weapons will figure in the future strategies of states that currently do not possess them, I have concluded, Mr. Chairman, that under no circumstances -- under no circumstances -- should Iran be allowed to acquire them. A nuclear Iran can neither be managed, as some of our European allies believed, nor deterred in the traditional sense, as advocates of stronger nonproliferation treaties hope will be the case.
As you noted, Mr. Chairman, Iran is fast building its position as the Middle East's political and military hegemon, a position which will be largely unchallengeable if it acquires nuclear weapons. A nuclear Iran will change all of the critical strategic dynamics of this volatile region in ways that threaten the interests of virtually everyone else. The outlines of some of these negative trends are already visible, as other actors adjust their strategies to accommodate what increasingly appears to be the emerging reality of an unpredictable, unstable nuclear power.
The opportunities nuclear weapons will afford Iran go far beyond the prospect of using them in a military conflict.
First, nuclear weapons will empower strategies of coercion, intimidation and denial that go far beyond purely military considerations.
Second, acquiring the bomb as an icon of state power will enhance the legitimacy of Iran's mullahs and make it harder for disgruntled Iranians to oust them.
Third, with nuclear weapons, Iran will have gained the ability to deter any direct American threats, as well as the leverage to keep the United States at a distance and discourage it from helping Iran's regional opponents. If it succeeds in this, a relatively small nuclear outcast will therefore thus able to deter a mature nuclear power. This means that, fourth, Iran will become a billboard advertising nuclear weapons as the logical asymmetric weapon of choice for nations that wish to confront the United States.
This leads logically to a fifth point: Intentional proliferation to state and non-state actors is virtually certain, as newly capable states seek to empower friends and sympathizers. Iran, with its well known support of Hezbollah, is a particularly good candidate to proliferate nuclear capabilities beyond the control of any state as a way to extend the coercive reach of its own nuclear politics.
The diffusion of nuclear know-how is on the verge of becoming impossible to impede, anyway. Just yesterday, I listened to former Senator Sam Nunn describe the chances of success of his Nuclear Threat Initiative, which seeks to put barriers on the pathway to nuclear proliferation. And he described the chances of success as a three on a scale of 10, and getting worse.
Finally, and sixth, small arsenals of just a few weapons will mean that nuclear use will become more likely as deterrence disappears. If it appears easy to destroy an adversary's nuclear weapons in a single blow, small arsenals will increase the incentive to strike first.
But some nuclear actors will be less interested in deterrence than in using nuclear weapons to annihilate their enemies. Iran's leadership has spoken of its willingness -- in their words -- to martyr the entire Iranian nation, and it has even expressed the desirability of doing so as a way to accelerate an inevitable apocalyptic collision between Islam and the West that will result in Islam's final worldwide triumph.
Iran's President Ahmadinejad is the poster child of this idea. He is the product of the most reactionary parts of Iran's clerical regime -- the support structures in security, intelligence and the paramilitary vigilante Basij forces and their hard-line Islamic mentors. The zealots he represents, and their views, are more extreme in virtually all respects than those of the regime's house clerics. According to them, the inevitable clash between Islam and the West, as you noted, will accelerate the appearance of the Hidden Imam, also known as the Imam Mahdi, the messianic core of Shi'a Islam.
Is Iran's quest for nuclear weapons connected to Ahmadinejad's and his followers' plans for martyring the entire Iranian nation to speed the return of the Hidden Imam? I think we should be clear, Mr. Chairman, that we have no idea -- no idea -- how to deter an ideological actor who might seek to annihilate others and then to be annihilated himself, gloriously, in return.
If we wish to avoid having to confront Iran militarily at some point in the near future, we need to unleash other influences and instruments that can help shape Iran's emerging landscape in ways that give Iranians a chance to step back, rethink the dangerous path they are now on, and understand the consequences of going there, constrain the radicals among them, and recalibrate their strategies in a direction toward rejoining the world community.
I strongly believe -- and I echo Dr. Milani on this -- I strongly believe that this is possible by going directly to Iran's people, especially to its young educated men and women, its intellectuals, its labor unions and its business communities, and its other key agents of change. Yet while these diverse groups may share visions of pushing the ruling mullahs into retirement, to date little critical mass has developed amongst them that might eventually coalesce to make this happen.
During the Cold War, as you know, we faced similar challenges in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, where unconventional ideas and intense debate were considered offenses against the state. Into this void of ideas, we directed America's powerful international broadcasting stations, especially Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, now acknowledged by virtually everyone as perhaps the most important influences in shaping and accelerating change in the East.
Iran is easily as resonant a milieu for idea-induced change as, say, Poland or Russia, and perhaps more so, but unfortunately both the war of ideas and the instruments that gave them life have been largely ignored by this administration.
There is no better illustration of this than America's principal broadcast service to Iran, Radio Farda, which the Broadcasting Board of Governors describes, and I quote, "a youth-oriented 24/7 Persian- language radio service that broadcasts political, social, economic news, information, public affairs, and music to Iran." Unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, the youth orientation of Radio Farda means that the broadcasts are mostly music. It has moved far from the successful Radio Free Europe radio model.
The Radio Free Europe gave its listeners a little bit of music, but primarily it enlivened their critical thinking with analysis and context, history, culture, religion, economics, law, human rights, labor and cross-reporting from many perspectives, all mostly missing from today's Radio Farda broadcasts. Radio Liberty's broadcasts to the former USSR never used music, and yet boasted a substantial youth audience.
Radio Farda's confusion, I believe, is elementary. The confusion is between public diplomacy, which features telling America's story, advocating for America's position and promoting American culture -- very useful in some respects -- and strategic communications, which is very different, and which was practiced by the Radio Frees. The Voice of America, the official voice of the U.S. government, has always been part of the public diplomacy architecture, but the "Radio Frees," better known as surrogate radio stations, have not. Their mission is fundamentally different.
While public diplomacy is all about us, the surrogate radios is all about them. The surrogate radios were successful in the Cold War because they were less concerned with how or why people dislike us or with advocating for America than in spurring intelligent listeners to think about the costs to their nation of runaway ideologies and isolation from critical globalizing trends. They were intended to stir debate within societies like Iran in ways that weaken the ability of oppressive regimes to monopolize information and ideas and, hence, power.
What eventually became Radio Farda was created for exactly this purpose. In the un-adopted Radio Free Iran Act of 1995, Congress called for additional broadcasts to further open the communications of accurate information, in their words, "about Iran to the people of Iran." The language of the bill is crystal clear in its intent to create a new surrogate broadcast entity.
In 1998 Congress appropriated $4 million to fund Radio Free Iran, to be run by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the nation's premier surrogate broadcaster. At no point did Congress envision or approve creating another public diplomacy instrument that focused on America and pumped out popular music.
In the beginning, this worked well. Radio Free Iran, renamed Radio Azadi, was run as a real surrogate station until 2002. It was an effective operation. By 2002, after four years of operation, Azadi had become the most popular foreign broadcaster to Iran, outpacing the better-known Voice of America and the BBC in the size of its elite audience. And anecdotal evidence that we have from this period suggests, incidentally, that even current President Ahmadinejad was a regular listener, reminiscent of the success of RFE/RL in drawing in most of the critical elites in their broadcast areas during the Cold War.
REP. LANTOS: We didn't do very well with Ahmadinejad, did we? (Laughter.)
MR. WIMBUSH: Not very well with him.
But in 2002, unfortunately, the station was abruptly morphed into Radio Farda, and programming changed it -- that changed it from the successful surrogate service aimed at critical elites and the populations that support them, as Congress had envisioned, to the airy music station aimed at kids took place.
Today, what passes for broadcast strategy at Radio Farda features an indiscriminant audience-maximizing formula that measures success by the number of listeners who tune in, not by the quality of those listeners or by the critical positions in influence and authority they occupy. If that metric had been applied to Radio Liberty, it would have been abolished before it came into its own in the early -- in the 1970s, becoming a powerful instrument of change.
This dumbing down -- dumbing down -- respects the needs and intelligence of neither the traditional agents of change nor the critical younger audiences, especially Iran's powerful student movement. In Farda's defense, its managers insist that without music Iranians will tune Radio Farda out because it will cease to be, in their words, "believable."
As you know, Mr. Chairman, credibility is indeed the currency of strategic communications, which is why substituting music for powerful ideas is so confused. Any sentient Iranian can see that it's the music that lacks credibility. It's a trick. It's a gimmick. They also see that filling up the airwaves with Britney Spears and Shania Twain says that America has no ideas of value and that we don't trust Iranian listeners to distinguish intelligent debate from pop culture pap.
What else could they conclude but the obvious: America is trying to make us like them. It's public diplomacy all over again. A far better and tested strategy would be to level with them, and help them level with each other. The notion that we must not offend Farda's Iranian listeners throws this station -- for existing into question.
It has -- as you know, Mr. Chairman, while stressing balance, these radios have never been neutral. To the contrary, they were created to help shape political landscapes in ways that favor our desired outcomes, and our listeners have always known it.
REP. LANTOS: Mr. Wimbush, can you wrap up, because I think we have sort of run out of time?
MR. WIMBUSH: Yes, I can.
My recommendation, Mr. Chairman, is that, at the very -- as a very strong priority, that this committee take it on itself to re- examine our strategic communication instruments, starting with Radio Farda, scrubbing them of their music and replacing it with serious programming. This may draw smaller audiences in the beginning, but they will be audiences that count for something. It's with some urgency, Mr. Chairman, that I urge you to go in that direction, because we are in late innings with Iran, and the time has come to do this.
REP. LANTOS: I want to thank all three of our distinguished witnesses.
We'll begin the questioning with Ms. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman. You're always a gentleman about that. And, because we have four votes, I believe, coming up rather rapidly, some of our more junior members may not have the opportunity to ask a question. I'll be glad to yield my time to Mr. McCaul, of Texas.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. MICHAEL T. MCCAUL (R-TX): I want to thank the gentlelady from Florida for yielding her time to me.
In my view, a nuclear Iran poses the greatest threat to the world. That may be a statement of the obvious. But I believe that Iran is on a collision course with the world. And we really have three options here. One is to try to negotiate. Another, some here believe that we should talk to Iran. And I'm not averse to talking, but I don't believe we have a lot of leverage. And I don't believe that the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, which worked so well with the Soviets, is going to apply with a mind-set that's willing to take its own life in the name of a greater power.
There's the military option. I believe, as I think everyone here would agree, that that should be always a last resort, last option put on the table.
The third option, in my view, is a more intriguing one, and that is the fact that, as was highlighted in some of the testimony, that about 80 percent of the current population do not agree with this oppressive regime. They do not agree with the mullahs. But they are oppressed to the point where they have a -- like, basically, a shotgun put down -- the barrel put down into their face. They have to go along.
I wanted the panel as a whole to comment on those three options, and, specifically, even more so, focus on the internal resistance idea.
Finally, what role, if any, the MEK could play in this resistance movement.
REP. LANTOS: Mr. -- Dr. Milani?
MR. MILANI: Let me begin by the last part of your question. Every evidence I have seen from inside Iran is that the MEK, because of its association with Saddam Hussein, because it became associated with Saddam Hussein during the years where Saddam was fighting Iran, is extremely unpopular within Iran, and it is known as a group that has used terror in the past. It now says that it has given up that practice. The idea of using them as an alternative, the idea of them playing a role as an alternative in Iran, I think goes against everything I understand about the Iranian community, both inside Iran and outside Iran.
And I think it has, in some fundamental ways, also undermined the legitimacy of the claim of the United States that we don't negotiate, for example, we don't cooperate with terrorists. For the Iranian people, right or wrong, this is a group that was known as having begun its history in that process.
I think the United States can play a very, very important role in helping that 80 percent, that silent majority, so far -- and not always silent -- to rise up and create a democratic option in Iran.
As I said earlier, I truly believe that the only solution to the nuclear issue is if we have a democratic government in Iran. Israel was not opposed to the idea of Iran having a nuclear program when Iran was not in the hands of the regime like Islamic Republic. In fact, Israel was one of the advocates of Iran's nuclear program in the '70s, one of the most forceful advocates of the nuclear program.
We have to bring Iran back to a kind of a state where the world does not fear that if they get their hands on any kind of a nuclear weapons, for example, that they will not give it to terrorists. I don't believe that this leadership, as an entirety, is the kind of leadership that wants to commit suicide, that is going to be willing to die. Most of this leadership, in fact, has become deeply corrupt. They have become renters.
Mr. Rafsanjani is one of the richest men in Iran right now. The rest of the clergy, because of their corrupt practices, have become owners of this society in ways, in terms of the corruption that I think far exceeds anything Iran has seen in the past. They want to continue collecting their share of this loot. This is a $50 billion loot that is coming in. To me, this regime is truly like a mafia that has suddenly found itself in the control of a beast that is $50 billion.
Now, there are Sunnis, in the great tradition of the godfather, who want to threaten and go out and get more, and are not willing to -- are not afraid to die. But the rest of the godfathers, they just want to continue reaping these benefits. That doesn't mean that they are not dangerous. That doesn't mean that the world should not try to help the Iranians change this government. That, I think, is the only strategic solution to this problem. Every aspect -- every problem in the Middle East, I think, can be solved with this.
And I think that movement, that democratic movement, within Iran is far more potentially viable than we give it credit for. It is now dispirited. It is disheartened. Mr. Khatami played a very, very negative role in making it lose face. But I think -- this is a movement that is a hundred years old. The Iranian democratic -- you know, we are now celebrating the centennial of the Constitutional Revolution.
This is not something that has come overnight, and it's not something that is going to go away overnight, because, fundamentally, the only solution to Iran's economic problem, social problem, drug problem, of which all of these are serious problems -- 10 percent of the population are addicted to opium or heroin in Iran -- 10 percent of the entire population. These things can only be solved; the unemployment problem can only be solved, if there is democracy in Iran. The infusion of capital that is required. Iran needs $600 billion to get its oil business back to 1975. That money is not going to come unless there is democracy in Iran. And the United States can help this democratic potential become reality.
REP. LANTOS: Dr. Takeyh?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: The best way for --
REP. LANTOS: Just -- let's not --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: -- (off mike) -- tragedy is for the United States of America to stop violating --
REP. LANTOS: Dr. Takeyh, would you please --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: -- the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We are the godfathers. We have more bombs than anybody. Just a second --
REP. LANTOS: No, no. Let's go.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: All right. Just a second. With all due respect, we need -- (off mike). Thank you very much.
MR. TAKEYH: I think Mr. Milani provoked that. (Laughs.)
REP. : Yes, with the godfather reference. (Laughter.)
REP. LANTOS: Dr. Takeyh?
MR. TAKEYH: Let me deal with one of the first issues that you brought up, military option. And I think, as Dr. Milani suggested, there is no realistic military option; because the military option relies not so much on logistical capability, but on precise intelligence. And if I start the following sentence by saying that the United States possesses detailed and accurate information regarding a Middle Eastern country's concealed nuclear weapons facilities, any paragraph, any chapter that begins with the phrase "according to U.S. intelligence" has to be treated with skepticism, if not outright derision.
Second of all, you know, for the past four years, at least, the United States has said, the president has said, on a rather routine basis, that at some point we may consider the military option. Well, if I'm an Iranian strategic planner, I'm taking the necessary steps in terms of dispersal, concealment and so forth to ensure the survival of my program should those persistently advocated threats come to realization.
So the mere invocation of military threat makes the actual military attack somewhat improbable in terms of a success. I mean, you know, they presumably know what we're talking about, as they do, in fact. So that's the military option.
Now, let me deal with the notion of whether or not the regime can be overthrown, which I gather is the core of the evidence, through a popular revolution.
I think Iran has democratic sentiments, but I will disagree that it has organized democratic -- or democratic movement willing and capable of confronting the regime, especially the way the regime is being depicted today -- messianic, suicidal, determined to blow itself and the universe -- and the way you deal with it is radio broadcasts.
I think, frankly, Chairman, you should have a hearing on what precipitated the demise of the Soviet Union, because often people come to these hearings, and others, and suggest that it was the broadcasts from the United States. And I think this was a point Mr. Wimbush made. I think we should actually test this proposition. You should actually have experts on what precipitated the demise of the Soviet Union, because, frankly, it was an awfully complicated, flexible American containment policy that involved negotiation and deterrence at the same time. And it had to do with the inability of the Soviet elite, at the end, to rescue their own state. There was a loss of will of the Soviet Union. But that's something that I think you should actually have, so we can actually put this issue to rest.
Do radio broadcasts help? Sure. This is a country of 85 percent illiteracy rate. It knows what's wrong with its society. There's 24- hour radio broadcast in Iran today. It's called BBC Persian Service. I mean, I don't know how that works. "I'm Hamid. I live in Iran. I have four jobs. I make $150 a month. And, you know, I was living a blissful life. Then I heard Radio Farda say, 'Hey, you know, Hamid, your life actually is not that great.' And I said, 'Well, that's what's wrong. So I'm going to get my two friends, Avi and Mohammed, and we're going to have a revolution.'"
Does it help to inform the society? Yes. Is it an ill-informed society? No. And I'm not quite sure. If Iran is all the things that the conservatives say it is -- messianic, determined to blow itself up and the universe -- then they should have the courage of their conviction and actually advocate an invasion, because then it is an existential threat.
So I'm not quite sure if the -- if that particular -- waiting for revolution as a counterproliferation strategy seems injudicious to me. If you believe that, you're wrong. If you believe that, you're ahistorical.
It's a serious problem we face with Iran, crossing successive nuclear demarcations with apparent impunity. I mean, this is a country that's going to have essentially an indigenous uranium enrichment capability in a very short time. You know, can negotiations help arrest that? Maybe. I'm not quite sure. Is there a military option? No. Is waiting for popular revolution stimulated through radio broadcasts a judicious strategy? I don't think so.
Are the type of sanctions that the administration is trying to impose on Iran, financial sanctions and so on, through indirect disinvestment from it, are those sanctions are going to have a cost on the Iranian economy? Indisputably so. But the problem with sanctions has never been that they don't have a cost. Is the cost sufficient to detract the regime from its contemplated policy objectives? And the record on that is indisputably clear. For 27 years, it's no.
REP. LANTOS: Mr. -- I'm sorry.
MR. WIMBUSH: Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It's seldom that I get a chance to say that I disagree with everything my predecessor has just said -- (laughter) -- but I do. Apart from his oversimplification of my discussion of how the radios were effective during the Cold War, and suggesting that maybe we should study it again -- it has been studied and studied. There have been many retrospectives on it. And I don't think that the jury's out on that anymore.
What I'm suggesting, and this gets to Congressman McCaul's question, is that one gets a sense in Iran today, and I think this is clear in Dr. Milani's larger testimony as well, that there are new dynamics at work, that there is movement in directions that we may not have seen before that we should be paying attention to. I'm reminded of the period shortly after 1987-1988 when we began to see the same thing in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe with the advent of glasnost. All kinds of things began to happen.
I am not in a position to characterize all those things. I think Dr. Milani and others like him can do that very well. But to miss encouraging that dynamic, as he has suggested, to me, is to miss -- is to miss a great opportunity. I think that there is every opportunity to strengthen forces of change in Iran that ultimately will work out to our advantage. I'm not saying that we should be calling for regime change. But let's be honest. If you strengthen those forces, if you support those forces, what you're hoping for is eventually that the regime will disappear, and you'll get something a little bit better.
But I think that the -- I would not want to see this characterized as a kind of troglodyte approach to a question that can't be penetrated. We know how to do this. We've done it before. We're really quite good at it. And I think it needs a lot more scrutiny.
REP. LANTOS: Thank you very much.
REP. ACKERMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Without provoking an outburst -- (laughter) -- by using the word "godfather," what -- what specifically can we do or should we be doing, in specific, to drive a wedge into the fissure in the family? Maybe start with Dr. Milani.
MR. MILANI: First of all, let me make one small point very clear. I did not mean, and I think Dr. Takeyh know that that's not what I mean, that you have a radio broadcast and that somehow turns on the key and you have a democratic revolution in Iran. I was never implying that.
There is a vast movement -- even many within the regime itself -- who have come to recognize that the continuation of the status quo is not tenable. Saeed Hajjarian was one of the most important elements of this regime's intelligence agency, and Saeed Hajjarian was the architect of Khatami's reform movement, because from within the intelligence agency he began to recognize that the status quo is untenable.
I suggest we go back and look at the elections that Mr. Ahmadinejad won. Every candidate, without fail, every candidate ran against the status quo, including Ahmadinejad. There wasn't a single candidate, including Mr. Rafsanjani, who was the pillar of the status quo. He, too, ran against the status quo. So there's something fundamentally rotten in the state of Iran. And a correct policy, a judicious policy, exactly as you suggest, sir, will throw -- will help these fissures, and will help these fissures in two ways: the fissures that exist between the Iranian people and this regime, and the fissures that exist within this regime.
Militarism only consolidates the most radical intransigents and helps the tribe get together. Rafsanjani, for example, when the election, he claimed, was stolen from him, he said: "I have secrets that I want to share, but we are in a state of war. I can't do it at this time." In other words, if the United States offers, for example, the chance for a negotiation, I'm not sure the Iranians would necessarily accept it. But the possibly of this reality coming to fruition will, I think, in itself, create an enormous tension within the regime. It will bring to surface many of these issues that are now in the background. It will potentially encourage some of the people who have --
REP. ACKERMAN: You're saying offering to talk to them will divide them?
MR. MILANI: Absolutely it will. Because --
REP. ACKERMAN: And that'll do it?
MR. MILANI: Because there will have to be a serious debate within the regime in Iran about doing this.
And there is another point that I want to emphasize. The idea that this regime, the mullahs, are going for the nuclear program because of their nationalism I think misses an important point about these mullahs.
The fundamental ideology of this regime is that nationalism is of colonial concept, that nationalism came because the West wanted to weaken the world. The mullahs want a nuclear program because they want to stay in power.
REP. ACKERMAN: Could we just ask Dr. Takeyh to respond?
MR. TAKEYH: Yes. The idea of offering to negotiate will divide Iran -- there is an American offer to negotiate with Iran. It was offered in May 2006 by Condoleezza Rice. There was a precondition to it, namely suspension of the enrichment activity for an interim period of time. And there was an Iranian counterproposal in August of 2006, when they accepted the offer of negotiations, but they wanted to do so on a broader basis and without the precondition.
So Iranians have accepted negotiations with the United States, America has offered those negotiations. Now, whether you want to dispense with the precondition, if Secretary Rice comes here, announces that we're going to negotiate without precondition, then those negotiations will take place. That may not be a judicious thing to do. We --
REP. ACKERMAN: Go ahead.
MR. TAKEYH: We should insist on the precondition, because otherwise negotiations could be a ruse for continuation of the nuclear program. But, you know, we're beyond whether or not to negotiate with Iran. That's a consensus position. From the left wing of the Democratic Party to the Bush-Cheney administration, that's where we are.
Now, how do you create a more liberalized, tolerant Iranian regime? Well, here I actually have the advantage of quoting Mr. Milani's work back to him. In the current issue in The Washington Quarterly and in other issues, he has suggested, along with his co- authors, that the best way of actually tempering the Iranian regime and creating a change in its dynamic -- and I don't want to misquote you, since you're here -- is to actually -- engaging it in a global society and a global economy, dispensation with those economic sanctions, and the idea being that as Iran becomes part of the global economy, organizations like the World Trade Organization and the investment community will impose discipline on Iran in terms of having rule of law, decentralization of power, institutional accountability. Those are prerequisites of the modern private economy, but they're also prerequisite antecedent of a democratic society.
I'm hoping I didn't misinterpret what he said, because, in essence, Mr. Milani has made a far-reaching argument for lifting of American economic sanctions and engagement with Iran. That sort of makes sense to me, but it is a very politically precarious proposition to advance, because if it doesn't work then actually we see the experience of China -- namely, it strengthens the regime and doesn't necessarily facilitate a democratic transition.
REP. LANTOS: Mr. Wimbush?
MR. WIMBUSH: I think that Congressman Sherman and Congressman Rohrabacher had it about right. Discussions, I think, are certainly worthwhile. Negotiations are something else. It depends what you're negotiating for. And what I fear is that we will get into negotiations with the Iranians as a fig leaf for allowing them quietly to become a nuclear power. That, to me, is unacceptable. If you take the position that I've taken, that that has to be -- that has to be stopped at all costs, then it seems to me you treat the whole subject of negotiations very carefully.
As much as I would hate to do it, you keep a military option on the table, although one should be under no illusions about the outcome.
Dr. Milani, I think, is absolutely right. A military strike of any kind will strengthen the regime, at least in the short run. But it will pull the nation together in ways that they currently are not pulled together. And so I think one wants to keep that very far in the background.
REP. LANTOS: I want to thank all three of our distinguished witnesses. This was a singularly illuminating hearing. The committee stands adjourned.