Iran is one of the most dangerous and evil regimes in the world. The protests in Egypt and Tunisia have distracted U.S. attention from its nuclear programs. This makes recent Iranian protests all the more important, reminding us yet again of the oppressive nature of the Iranian regime, a regime that poses even more dangers if regional instability expands its sphere of influence and emboldens it to press ahead even more rapidly with its development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

The U.S. needs to refocus the international spotlight on Iran, step up the pressure, and demand that Iran retreat from its nuclear ambitions. This means making it known to Iran that military force is indeed on the table, should Iran choose not cooperate.

Some say that containing Iran, even after it develops nuclear weapons, is the best option.  But this will prove difficult, costly and dangerous.

First, the U.S. will have lost credibility after several administrations, including the Obama administration, declared a nuclear Iran unacceptable. Other countries in the region would hesitate to trust the U.S. to contain Iran. This could strengthen Iran’s influence.  The defense needs of neighboring countries may make it too risky for them to antagonize Iran. They would need assurances of protection from Iran. But how could they trust the U.S. after we gave up on the statement we made repeatedly and explicitly: that nuclear Iran is unacceptable?

Second, the U.S. would be required to support governments in countries around Iran. During the Cold War, for example, when the U.S. resolved to contain Soviet Communism, we worked with reliable and supportive allies around the world, from Japan to South Korea to Australia to NATO, plus countries surrounding the Soviet Union. The same would need to happen with regards to Iran. The problem is our only reliable and democratic ally in the region that is guaranteed to oppose Iranian influence is Israel.

Iran is surrounded by Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. We could perhaps count on Iraq and Saudi Arabia for support. However, many of these countries would not be sure to cooperate with us in containing Iran, and might instead choose to play both sides of the fence.

Other countries would simply be too weak to offer any substantial support, meaning the United States would have to fight the external enemy of Iran while at the same time needing to build up these weaker allies who are threatened. This is similar to our current situation in Afghanistan, where we are fighting the Taliban and building up the Afghan government.  But many liberals are not happy with this policy. Liberal advocates of containment should think carefully before recommending that we adopt this policy in the Persian Gulf.

Furthermore, to successfully contain Iran, the U.S. would need to cut off Iran’s relationships with other countries, just as we did to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This would mean we would need to break up Iran’s relationships with both Syria and Lebanon, where Iran has been funneling support to Hezbollah, and filling the region with rockets and other weapons with which to attack Israel. To say this task is daunting would be an understatement.

Third, Iran is not necessarily the rational actor in the way the Soviet Union was. Communism as advanced by the Soviet Union was an ideology interested in, and dependent upon, self-preservation. Some Iranian leaders, led by President Ahmadinejad, in contrast, state they believe in Shia Eschatology. This creed says that the hidden “12th Imam” will reappear and save all believers, converting the world into a caliphate. Bringing death, destruction and chaos to nonbelievers will speed up this process. This is a suicidal ideology, based upon the belief that it is the believers’ mission from God to die fighting against nonbelievers. It’s hard to see how the diplomatic, political and economic pressure of containment would convince these Iranian leaders to renounce these beliefs.

And although not all Iranian leaders, much less the Iranian people, believe these things, how much more risky does containment become, when some of the leaders of that country state they support an ideology that praises martyrdom? What’s to stop one of those leaders from giving a nuclear weapon to Hezbollah or another terrorist organization?

These are just a few of the many reasons that containment is not a good policy to rely upon. Instead, the U.S. needs to keep the military option alive, defend itself and its allies, and seek both to weaken the regime’s economic base and to empower and encourage its domestic adversaries.

But what does the “military option” mean? – An all out invasion? Coordination with Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities? What specific policies can the U.S. support to promote leadership change within Iran? For these answers and more, listen to Heritage expert Ted Bromund, on this week’s Heritage in Focus podcast.