Editor's Note: Rob Sobhani is the President of Caspian Energy Consulting, a group with interests in energy and infrastructure projects. He engages extensively with heads of state in the broader Middle East for work and wrote the book, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: A Leader of Consequence. He holds a PhD from Georgetown University.
By Rob Sobhani – Special to CNN
The Iranian regime's threat to shut the Strait of Hormuz should not come as a surprise to those who have followed Tehran's policy towards the U.S. since the late Ayatollah Khomeini called America "the Great Satan." Since the clerical regime's declaration of war against the U.S. 32 years ago - starting with the take-over of the American Embassy in Tehran by students loyal to Khomeini - and over six different administrations, the official U.S. political and diplomatic response to Iran has vacillated between engagement, appeasement and containment while the potential threat from Iran to the U.S. has increased exponentially. Current American policy is a mix of economic sanctions and covert attempts to slowdown Iran's nuclear ambitions in the hopes that the regime in Tehran will change its behavior and abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. The history of Iranian actions suggest that even the Obama Administration's tougher sanctions policy may not succeed.
During the past three decades the Islamic regime in Tehran has played a role in attacking American interests with impunity, validating the late Ayatollah Khomeini's claim that "America cannot do a damn thing." Among the victims of the ayatollahs declaration of war against America have been 241 marines in Beirut (1983), U.S. navy diver Robert Stethem (1985), Colonel William Higgins (1990), 19 American air force personnel in Saudi Arabia (1996), 17 State Department employees in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (1998), and the continued murder of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Armed with a nuclear device, the clerical regime will not hesitate to murder more Americans.
Today, as the Iranian regime continues to confront the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen and the Palestinian territories, the policy debate in Washington ranges from striking "a grand bargain" with the regime to staging a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The majority of policy-makers fall between these two extremes, advocating a "carrot and stick" approach of diplomacy combined with economic sanctions.
U.S. policy towards Iran should consist of five simultaneous pillars.
First, President Obama should appoint an Iran Czar to coordinate the overall goals of his approach to Iran.
Second, should the regime in Tehran wish to talk with the U.S., diplomacy should always be on the table as an option.
Third, the U.S. should impose targeted economic sanctions such as freezing the enormous assets of the regime's leaders hidden in Canadian, Swiss and Asian banks. This, as opposed to the Obama Administration's sanctions on Iranian oil exports, may be an even more effective weapon in the U.S. arsenal.
Fourth, while Washington should keep a close eye on the progress of Iran's nuclear weapons program, our public diplomacy should refocus on the violation of human rights in Iran. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, should put more emphasis on the brutality of the regime towards its own people.
Finally, serious consideration should also be given to the wishes of the Iranian people. The people of Iran hold the key to America's long-term strategic interests in the Middle East. Public opinion polls conducted for the Department of State since 2003 have identified the following two concerns among the Iranian people: 76% would like a "fundamental change" of the political system and 80% would like to see this change effected through a referendum. Continuing demonstrations in Iran's major cities following the contested elections in June of 2009 suggests that the people of Iran do indeed want a change of regime.
As the gulf between the Iranian people and the regime widens, Washington should focus its efforts on making this divide permanent. Indeed, the national security interests of the United States coincide with the wishes of the Iranian people.
Irrespective of whether "reformers" or "hard-liners" are running the theocracy in Iran, the foreign policy goals of the regime are the same: pursue weapons of mass destruction for regional domination; create an Islamic Republic inside Iraq (either as a united entity or a partitioned country); drive the United States out of the Persian Gulf and broader Middle East; continue to support terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah; use Yemeni rebels as proxies to overthrow the monarchy of Saudi Arabia; and work with its allies in the region to eliminate Israel.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Rob Sobhani.