Raymond Tanter is an adjunct scholar at the "pro-Israel" Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a visiting professor at Georgetown University, and founder of the Iran Policy Committee (IPC), which was established in January 2005 to promote regime-change strategies in Iran. Tanter's experience also includes serving on the National Security Council during the first Ronald Reagan administration and as a Pentagon arms control advisor.
The IPC, which largely serves to promote Tanter's explicitly hawkish positions on Iran, is comprised of "former officials from the White House, State Department, intelligence agencies, and experts from think tanks and universities." According to IPC, "By calling for change in Tehran based on Iranians instead of Americans, IPC stresses the potential for a third alternative: Keep open diplomatic and military options, while providing a central role for the Iranian opposition to facilitate regime change."
In the wake of March's Iraqi elections, Tanter warned that Iran might try to prevent the emergence of a secular-nationalist government in Baghdad, which according to Tanter "would signal a rerun of the Sunni-Shiite civil war, restart the insurgency against American forces, and delay the United States planned pullout from Iraq."
Tanter has long argued that the United States should support Iranian opposition groups. At a Middle East Forum conference in March, Tanter told the audience that if U.S. policy "led rather than followed" the Iranian street, the situation in Iran could be comparable to 1979, referencing the 1979 revolution that ousted the U.S. supported Shah from power. "As in the revolution of 1979, Iranians again want regime change and today's opposition is inclusive, whereas the 1999 and 2003 protests lacked the broad coalition present in 1979. Today's street protests need to hear more from the United States to broaden the coalition," explained a Middle East Forum summary of Tanter's remarks.
Tanter has been a key advocate for U.S. support of the People's Mujahedin Organization (MEK), which has been on the State Department's list of international terrorist organizations since 1997, after it assassinated six U.S. citizens involved in selling weapons to the Shah. Shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Tanter vociferoulys pushing this argument, claiming that supporting the MEK could replace a U.S. invasion of Iran. He said, "I think that regime change ought to be the policy of the Bush administration. But regime change doesn't mean that you need the 4th Infantry Division to come in from the north and meet up in the south with the 3rd Infantry Division coming in from the south and the Marines coming in from the West. That is, Iran is not Iraq." Instead, said Tanter, the United States could support the Iraq-based MEK so that it could launch a cross-border insurgency against Iranian targets.
Tanter revived these arguments in a February 2010 IPC press release, claiming the "regime crackdown after the June elections has fomented a new cohesion among dissidents," including the MEK and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is also considered a terrorist group. Said Tanter, "Designation of the NCRI and MEK as foreign terrorist organizations acts an obstacle to building a coalition of dissidents. The irony, however, is that members of the MEK are paying a disproportionate price by being singled out for hangings among the thousands of individuals arrested since June."
Both NCRI and the MEK also figured prominently during a 2005 IPC National Press Club briefing. Tanter said: "One military option is the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, which may have the capability to destroy hardened deeply-buried targets. That is, bunker-busting bombs could destroy tunnels and other underground facilities. But the Pentagon's 2001 Nuclear Posture Review states that over 70 countries employ underground facilities for military purposes, while the United States lacks sufficient means to destroy these facilities. In addition, the Non-Proliferation Treaty bans use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, such as Iran. Such a prohibition might not apply as much to Israel. In this respect, the United States has sold Israel bunker-busting bombs, which keeps the military option on the table."
"Empowerment requires working with Iranian opposition groups in general and with the main opposition in particular. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) are not only the best source for intelligence on Iran's potential violations of the nonproliferation regime. The NCRI and MEK are also a possible ally of the West in bringing about regime change in Tehran."
"The international community should realize that there is only one group to which the regime pays attention and fears: the Mujahedeen-e Khalq and the political coalition of which the MEK is a part, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. By delisting the NCRI and MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations listing maintained by the Department of State, it would allow regime change to be on the table in Tehran. With regime change in the open, Tehran would have to face a choice about whether to slow down in its drive to acquire nuclear weapons or not."
During the George W. Bush presidency, the Iran Policy Committee maintained strong ties with foreign policy hawks on Capitol Hill. In April 2005, for example, the IPC convened a briefing at the invitation of the Iran Human Rights and Democracy Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives, which was co-chaired by former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA). During the event, Tancredo raised the issue of the terrorist designation of Iran's main opposition group, the Mujahedeen e-Khalq organization (MEK), and IPC panelists concurred on the need to remove it from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. Rep. Tancredo claimed that the MEK was designated not because it was involved in terrorist activities, but because the Clinton administration sought to curry favor with the Iranian regime.
According to an IPC press release, Tanter told Tancredo and other Caucus members: "While Iran's nuclear clock is ticking very fast, the clock for a regime change is much too slow," he said. "And if Iran were to acquire the bomb before the people are able to change the regime, it might obtain a new lease on life, act to extend the Iranian Revolution throughout the region, and threaten U.S. interests in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel."
On May 11, 2006 IPC released a policy paper, What Makes Tehran Tick, which concludes that Iran's hostility toward Israel and the United States is less a result of feeling threatened or living in a "tough neighborhood" than of "the nature of the regime's revolutionary ideology." Explaining the new IPC white paper, Tanter stated: "The Islamist nature of the regime takes on enhanced importance because Iran is on the road to acquiring nuclear weapons, and there are few exit ramps along the way." Tanter said, "Given the Islamist character of the Iranian regime and its nuclear potential, only regime change ends the threat of a nuclear-armed Islamist Iran. Diplomacy and military strikes would only delay the onset of the Iranian regime acquisition of nuclear arms."
Tanter has written two books. In Rogue Regimes: Terrorism and Proliferation (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998, 1999), he wrote: "In a forest of world politics, the West slew a dying Soviet bear, and Washington sees additional beasts hiding in the woods-rogue elephants." The book compares European efforts to embrace states like Iran with American efforts to isolate them. Coauthored with John Psarouthakis, Balancing in the Balkans (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999) includes this summary passage: "When there is a balance of power among parties in conflict, diplomatic persuasion is an option available to outside actors; but if there is an imbalance of power, interventionists might use coercive diplomacy." Prior documents written by Tanter include Rational Decision-Making: Israel's Decisions, 1967, and Who's at the Helm? Lessons of Lebanon.