Speaking on ABC's "This Week," former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States should never take the option of military force off the table when it comes to dealing with Iran because the regime is clearly trying to obtain a nuclear weapon and has repressed its own people.
"The regime has absolutely no legitimacy left," added Rice.
In all probability, however, any military campaign against Iran's nuclear sites would ignite yet another Middle East conflict with neither clear winners nor a predictable endgame. For its part, Tehran has promised to inflict "heavy damage" on both Israel and the United States in retaliation for any such strikes. These aren't idle threats.
Following revelations about its alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington, the Iranian regime has shown itself willing and capable to strike at the heart of the United States. The planned assassination was in the words of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a "dangerous escalation" in that Iran chose to hit out at enemies beyond its usual targets like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Concrete change in Iran has to come from within. Dictatorships were toppled in Tunisia and Egypt after the people rose up against their oppressors. The lack of outside intervention fueled a sense of popular ownership of these changes. The popular rebellion threatening the Syrian regime is the latest sign that these movements cannot be prevented and will ultimately prevail.
The people of Iran, too, can bring down the ruling mullahs without the United States and its allies intervening militarily and risking lives. The uprising of 2009, while brutally repressed, displayed nationwide and overwhelming support for regime change.
Ironically, U.S. policy toward Iran has prevented that change from becoming reality because the best organized and largest Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq has been shackled for the past 14 years.
In less than eight weeks, the government of Iraq plans to close Camp Ashraf, where thousands of MEK members have lived for more than 25 years. If Baghdad were allowed to make good on its threat to wipe the camp off the map by the end of this year, it will result in a humanitarian catastrophe.
A declaration signed by 180 members of the European Parliament in October warned that, "The lives of 3,400 Iranian dissidents, including 1,000 women, in Camp Ashraf, Iraq are in danger." They added that Nouri al-Maliki's arbitrary decision to close Ashraf could be used as a pretext for a large-scale massacre.
They were joined by 42 members of the House of Representatives, who urged U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to use his wherewithal to "station a full-time monitoring team in Camp Ashraf," urging the Iraqi government to "immediately lift the deadline to close down Camp Ashraf by the end of the year."
Human rights groups, like Amnesty International, have also warned that Camp Ashraf residents "are at serious risk of severe human rights violations if the Iraqi government goes ahead with its plans to force the closure of the camp."
The Iraqis have already demonstrated their willingness to use deadly force. Camp Ashraf has been attacked several times by Iraqi security forces causing the deaths of dozens of residents and injuries to others, rights groups say. On April 8, Iraqi forces brutally raided the camp, killing 36 residents, including eight women, and injuring more than 300. In July 2009, a similar attack took the lives of 11 residents.
Sadly, all this has happened under the nose of the U.S. military, which promised Camp Ashraf protection before turning over responsibility to Iraq in 2009. Iraqi forces used U.S. weapons in the latest raid. Afraid that their crimes will be revealed, Iraqi authorities have prevented the entry of U.S. and European lawmakers as well as journalists into Camp Ashraf.
Iraqi military incursions continue ahead of what could be the final push in December. Around 40 vehicles, both military and police, entered Camp Ashraf on Nov. 1. This was both a dry run of the definitive attack and part of the psychological warfare to which residents are routinely subjected. Hundreds of loud speakers have been set up around Camp Ashraf as part of preparations for the bloody showdown.
All this comes despite the designation of Camp Ashraf residents as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention and despite the fact that U.S. forces are legally and morally bound to protect them. The United Nations has officially considered Ashraf residents as "asylum seekers," calling on Iraq to extend the deadline. Amnesty International has called on the international community to resettle residents in third countries before it's too late.
If the United States persists with its policy of malign neglect toward the unarmed residents of Camp Ashraf, those responsible will start the New Year with blood on their hands.
If, on the other hand, Washington forces Iraq to cancel its deadline and to facilitate asylum applications, it would prove the credibility of its promises and help saving the lives of members of Iran's principal opposition movement which has the capability to help bring change to Iran by Iranians, obviating the need for foreign military intervention.
(Ali Safavi is president of Near East Policy Research, a policy analysis firm in Washington (www.neareastpolicy.com).)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)