The Case for Small Government

A Libertarian Perspective on Economic and Social Policy

March 13, 2006

Regime Change in Iran?

The U.S. is thinking about engineering regime change in Iran. The main motivation is Iran’s alleged efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Should the U.S. try to topple the ayatollahs? My answer is no.

The benefits of regime change are likely to be small. We do not know for sure that Iran is developing nuclear weapons; if nothing else, recent experience in Iraq tells us that intelligence about these issues is noisy at best. And Iran could just be bluffing to scare off its enemies. Moreover, Iran has weak incentive to use nuclear weapons, since this would precipitate a swift military response from the U.S. and its allies.

The costs of an attempt at regime change, by contrast, are likely to be substantial. Any such attempt, even if successful, will generate resentment of the U.S. in the Muslim world. Any such attempt, even if successful, will take a toll in money and lives. And any such attempt, even if successful, might produce a country of warring factions, further destabilizing the Middle East.

The tradeoff is therefore between a modest, uncertain benefit and a substantial, more certain cost. The choice is clear.


At 6:05 AM, Blogger Bob Schubring said...

The U.S. is in the present situation with Iran because of a previous regime change in 1946. The Shah had fled to Nazi-occupied Paris after Britain and the Soviet Union occupied Iran to prevent the Shah from supplying oil to Hitler's regime. In the Shah's absence, a democratic government formed. With the blessing of Foggy Bottom, the elected government of Iran was replaced with the Shah, who promptly began a policy of repression and an attack on private property rights which stripped Iran's clergy of much of its real estate.

Few Iranians today have much trust for the U.S. after what we did to their country. An insurgency against the U.S. is much more likely in Iran than an insurgency against the Shiite clergy.

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Al Brown said...

Here's Business Week's take on the effects of the west's involvement in the Iranian oil industry.

I wonder if an acknowledgement and apology for past violations of national sovereignty of individual rights would help international relations. Acknowledging the truth is a good place to start for healing any relationship.

At 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All nations have a natural right to self-defense, just as all individuals do. And Iran is currently in grave peril and in dire need of beefed up defenses. She is surrounded by two US-occupied nations, with nuclear Israel also nearby.
Given this dangerous predicament, the world should have expected that Iranian voters would elect someone like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last summer, and discontinue their trend toward western liberalization.
After all, when citizens feel threatened, they tend to elect "tough" leaders.

And if Israel can get away with violating her Nuclear Nonprolifercation Treaty, then why can't other, similarly situated nations do the same?

At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never considered myself a libertarian, but so far I have agreed with everything you've blogged on.

At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is debatable whether there was any true "election" held in Iran. Most of the candidates were invalidated by the mullah's in defacto control of the country. I doubt that most citizens of Iran feel any more threatened by external forces than they do by their own "governemnt."

The larger question is "What do you do with an irrational actor?" Iran would appear to be at least borderline irrational, if so the risks to the rest of the world from their possession of nuclear weapons are higher. Doesn't this change the cost/benefit equation? If so, how much?

How does a libertarian approach address irrational actors in general?

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