RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
There's also a vigorous debate outside the administration about how the U.S. should deal with Iran and its nuclear program. Some favor military action. Others say the U.S. should focus first on changing the Iranian government. NPR's Tom Gjelten has more.
TOM GJELTEN: Here's the case for carrying out airstrikes on suspected Iranian nuclear facilities. A nuclear-armed Iran would so destabilize the volatile Middle East region that the use of force would be justified to block that development. Kori Schake is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. She was also a foreign policy advisor to John McCain during his presidential campaign.
Ms. KORI SCHAKE (Hoover Institution): I do think military attacks on the Iranian nuclear infrastructure may eventually be necessary to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons. And I think preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons is an enormously important national security goal for the United States.
GJELTEN: Support for military action in Iran is especially strong within the so-called neo-conservative movement. But the neo-cons are not of one mind on this. Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute is a case in point.
Mr. MICHAEL RUBIN (American Enterprise Institute): I do consider myself a neo-conservative, and I very much supported the Iraq war. However, Iran is a different case.
GJELTEN: Rubin opposes military attacks on Iran. Not because he doesn't worry about Iran developing a nuclear bomb. He just thinks the best way to keep Iran non-nuclear is to push for a new government there.
Mr. RUBIN: I very much support regime change in Iran, and military strikes on Iran would set back regime change. And what I would use to support this is the fact that when we go back 31 years...
GJELTEN: Back to the Ayatollah Khomeini, who, Rubin says, almost lost control of the Iran after his 1979 revolution. Khomeini consolidated power, Rubin argues, only after Iraq invaded Iran a year later. At that point, Iranians rallied behind Khomeini. And if the U.S. were to attack their country, Rubin says, the Iranians would rally behind their government again.
Mr. RUBIN: Anyone who says that the Iranian people might rise up and support bombing their country has never been to Iran nor talked to Iranians.
GJELTEN: Rubin spent five years in Iran doing research. He has a whole list of ways the United States could promote regime change in Iran, like support independent trade unions, set up a clandestine communication system, recruit defectors - all to bring about an end to the current government.
Mr. RUBIN: We don't know where the chips will fall if everything collapses. But we should at least have a discussion first about where we would like to see Iran, and then walk backwards from that in policy to determine what we can do to sort of push and nudge the Iranian people and any post-Islamic Republic government in that direction.
GJELTEN: Rubin argues that a new government in Iran would be more trustworthy, more likely to trade away its nuclear program in return for aid.
Promoting democracy in other countries is actually something of a U.S. specialty. Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace studies such efforts. With respect to Iran, he says there's one point to keep in mind: Regime change might not happen.
Mr. THOMAS CAROTHERS (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): I understand the impulse on the part of many people here in Washington now to say we do need regime change in Iran. It would be a good thing. But I'm cautious if we make that the basis of our policy and say our policy will only succeed if this occurs because, you know, there's strong evidence pointing to the fact that we don't always get what we want in that regard.
GJELTEN: Take Cuba, where the United States has been trying unsuccessfully to promote regime change now for 50 years.
Kori Schake of the Hoover Institution has another objection to depending on regime change to reverse an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Even a more democratic government, she says, may not be able to move against the hard-line elements likely to control a bomb.
Ms. SCHAKE: They may need to shore up their right flank and continue the nuclear program for some period of time or even indefinitely, and that, too, will be a problem for us.
GJELTEN: Schake does recognize the dangers in the military option: that Iran would escalate the conflict, for example, and retaliate. There could be a wider war.
For his part, Michael Rubin admits his regime change policy may not work, either.
On one point everyone seems to agree: With Iran, there's no really good option.
Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.
MONTAGNE: And an update now on a story we're tracking this morning. Federal authorities say that last night, they caught a man accused of driving a car loaded with explosives into Times Square. His name is Faisal Shahzad. This morning, President Obama told a business gathering that, quote, "justice will be done."
President BARACK OBAMA: This incident is another sobering reminder of the times in which we live. Around the world and here at home, there are those who would attack our citizens and who would slaughter innocent men, women and children in pursuit of their murderous agenda.
MONTAGNE: The president said the FBI is investigating whether the suspect has ties to terrorist groups.
This is NPR News.
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