As Iran’s Islamist dictatorship escalates its brutal repression of its own people, growing numbers of Middle East experts have called for a harder line against Iran. Writing in today’s Washington Post, Ray Takeyh, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, recommended that: “The Obama administration should take a cue from Ronald Reagan and persistently challenge the legitimacy of the theocratic state and highlight its human rights abuses.” It is refreshing that the Council, which is far from a bastion of conservatism, has recognized the value of Ronald Reagan’s principled leadership.

But while some Iran experts, who formerly called for recognizing the legitimacy of Iran’s radical regime, have been late to acknowledge the regime’s human rights abuses, corruption, and crumbling base of political support, Heritage Foundation experts long have recognized that Iran’s predatory regime lacks legitimacy and must be firmly confronted. For example, as I wrote in a 2003 web memo, “Revolting against the Revolution”: “Because of its arrogant authoritarian rule, corruption, restrictive social policies, and disastrous economic policies, Iran’s clerical establishment, led by Ayatollah Ali Khamanei who succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini as the supreme leader, has grown increasingly unpopular.”

Heritage Vice President Kim Holmes argued in a 2005 web memo that Tehran’s human rights violations and support for terrorism make its nuclear weapons efforts all the more unacceptable:

The human rights community should be as worried about Iran getting nuclear weapons as the Bush Administration is. Human rights groups should be issuing reports, holding vigils, and giving Iran a prominent place on their websites. They need to shine a spotlight on the fact that one of the world’s most repressive regimes — which Freedom House ranks as next to the bottom in political and civil rights — may be on the verge of getting a weapon that could obliterate hundreds of thousands of lives in minutes.

Perhaps at some point in the future, the Council on Foreign Relations will admit that President George W. Bush was right in calling Iran a part of the “axis of evil” just as Ronald Reagan was right to call the Soviet Union an “evil empire”. But that admission is likely to come several decades in the future, if at all.