I often wonder what would have happened had we fully committed to overthrowing the Islamic Republic. Inside the Pentagon, I had long argued that regime change, not accommodation or war, would be our best policy. Competent counterparts in the State Department and the CIA, however, disagreed. That left us with a muddle: The hard-line mullahs who run Iran thought we were trying to oust them, but in practice we weren’t. I sought alternatives, for example, the possibility of shocking Iran into ground-level neutrality in Iraq so that U.S. aims might succeed without unacceptable causalities. But ultimately, I failed.
My plan was designed to shake the foundations of Iran’s mullahcracy without resorting to military action. I urged the United States to recognize a government in exile, perhaps in a nearby Central Asian country with a Persian heritage. I proposed a sophisticated propaganda offensive, planting stories both true and otherwise in the Persian-language media to undermine Iranians’ confidence in their leaders. I urged that we highlight Iran’s human rights record by focusing attention on at least one victim of the regime every day of the year, and that we expose the regime’s “gulag archipelago’ of prisons. And I proposed the selective declassification of documents that would embarrass Iran on the world state.