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by James K. Glassman and Michael Doran


Here's what a serious plan to undermine the regime in Tehran would look like.

Al Qaeda bombers on U.S. airliners need prompt attention, but it is Iran, a supporter of terrorism now developing the capacity to fire nuclear-tipped missiles, that may pose the greatest threat to global stability and American security.

That threat can be diminished three ways: by military action, by compromise by Iran's regime, or by a new, less bellicose government taking power in Tehran. The first two appear unlikely, but the third, at least since protests broke out last June after the presidential election, seems more and more realistic. Yet so far the United States and its allies have shrunk from seriously encouraging that third way.

Tehran. Election Riot, July 2009. (

Immediately after the post-election, Green Revolution protests began in Iran, some policy makers argued that overt U.S. support would allow the regime to claim that those in the opposition were somehow our agents. Even with no evidence, the regime did that anyway — to little effect.

So how can the U.S. support the opposition? The key is strategic communications that integrate words and deeds to achieve a major political goal — in this case, changing the character of the Iranian leadership. Everything that we do, everything that we say — and everything that we don't do and don't say — should be coordinated to meet this goal.

Such a policy would have four separate tasks:

For this last task, America's comparative advantages — our technology and imagination — are the best tools. For example, to counter the claim that the West wants to hold Iran back, the U.S. government, using a private foundation, could rally CEOs in Silicon Valley (and Japan, India and Indonesia, for that matter) to offer Iranian engineering students seminars on high-tech entrepreneurship. We could saturate the airwaves of Iran with messages from, say, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seeking applicants for the seminars. The Iranian government would likely oppose such a program and the message would be: "Your regime, not the West, wants to keep you down."

Similarly, we should be using all our tools, including intelligence, to track the individuals responsible for cracking down on the protesters, and to publicize their identities. Naming and shaming perpetrators would put the regime on the defensive and assure the protesters that their sacrifice will not be forgotten. As we know from Soviet dissidents, moral support works.

A serious strategic communications program for Iran could have dozens, even hundreds, of programs like these. It should extend across government agencies with clear leadership and include private-sector participation.

Too often in foreign policy our interests demand that we compromise our core values. With Iran, however, we have been blessed with remarkable luck: Our strategic and moral imperatives stand in perfect alignment. And Iranians like Americans.

The Iranian challenge appears more amenable than any other serious national threat to a soft-power solution. Let's get going.

Mr. Glassman, executive director of the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, served as under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs in the last administration. Mr. Doran, a visiting professor at New York University's Wagner Graduate School, was deputy assistant secretary of defense for support to public diplomacy from 2007-8.

This article appeared January 21, 2010 in the Wall Street Journal as an Opinion piece.


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