On Monday, President Trump expressed his concern for the “long-suffering Iranian people” and the national security interests of “our allies” — and then announced that his administration is moving forward with a plan to immiserate the Iranian people and undermine a vital national security interest of America’s European allies.
In a statement, the White House confirmed that the United States will restore a battery of sanctions on Iran that had been lifted by the 2015 nuclear deal. Under the terms of that landmark diplomatic agreement, the U.S. promised Britain, France, and Germany that it would suspend sanctions on companies and countries that did business with Iran, so long as Tehran suspended its nuclear weapons program. Firms from those nations proceeded to make investments and forge business relationships in Iran. The Iranian regime ditched its highly enriched uranium, tolerated an invasive inspection program, and fully complied with its obligations under the agreement.
The United States denies none of this.
The trouble is, while Iran has complied with the nuclear agreement, it has also persisted in asserting itself as a regional power, and pursuing a foreign policy that the United States does not like. Specifically, the Iranian regime has helped one of its homicidal, authoritarian allies put down an insurgency through mass war crimes, provided weapons to rebels in a country that is within its arch-geopolitical rival’s sphere of influence, and provided support to militants in the Israel-Palestine conflict who have routinely refused to abide by the Geneva Convention — all things that the U.S. government would never, ever, ever, ever, do.
In light of Iran’s extraordinary actions, America has decided to break its word to its core allies, and inflict profound material deprivation on the Iranian people, based on the dubious premise that this will force Tehran to do Washington’s bidding.
“As we continue applying maximum economic pressure on the Iranian regime, I remain open to reaching a more comprehensive deal that addresses the full range of the regime’s malign activities, including its ballistic missile program and its support for terrorism,” Trump said in his statement Monday.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani subsequently declined the president’s implicit invitation for talks in a televised address.
“If you stab someone with a knife and then you say you want talks, then the first thing you have to do is remove the knife,” Rouhani said. “We are always in favour of diplomacy and talks … But talks need honesty…The one who today claims he can negotiate is also someone who, without any negotiation, has withdrawn from all of his international commitments, from the Paris treaty to his trade agreements.”
In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom reiterated their commitment to the 2015 deal, saying, “preserving the nuclear agreement with Iran is a matter of respecting international agreements and a matter of international security.”
To that end, the European Union on Monday adopted a “blocking” measure intended to nullify American sanctions on EU firms that continue to do business with Iran. The statute threatens European companies that abide by America’s sanctions with even stiffer economic penalties. But any attempt to enforce this rule would be legally contentious and politically painful. Meanwhile, major EU firms have already signaled that they aren’t interested in jeopardizing their access to the U.S. banking system and consumer market for the sake of retaining a foothold in Iran.
Economic mismanagement — combined with the threat of renewed U.S. sanctions, which have been looming since Trump first withdrew America from the nuclear agreement in May — has already thrown Iran’s economy into turmoil. And this dysfunction has coincided with a revived protest movement against the nation’s contemptible, theocratic regime. But as the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian (who was unjustly imprisoned by Iranian authorities for over a year) explains, Trump’s sanctions are more likely to strengthen the most oppressive elements of Iranian society than to enable its dissident movements to win progressive reforms:
Although sanctions won’t target food and medicine directly, Iran will be cut from the international financial system, so imports for many items will be affected, causing delays in delivery. People needing certain lifesaving drugs will have to cross borders to buy their medicine — if they can afford it — on the black market. People who might otherwise live normal lives with the aid of their medications will needlessly die…Soon enough, well-connected officials and their families with access to the black markets will begin importing and selling goods at exorbitant prices, callously taking advantage of the misfortune that their cronies in government helped create.
…Just as Fidel Castro’s Cuba, Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela and many other anti-U.S. regimes manage to limp along for years, Iran’s ruling class is similarly stubborn. It’s true that protests have picked up steam in recent months and spread throughout Iran, but they aren’t the type that peacefully topple a system that has all the guns.
The struggles of surviving daily life will make political organizing more of a challenge than it already is. The protests are still not anything like a mass movement. They are the legitimate and disparate demands of people living under the weight of immense pressure.
There is a strong case that the foreign policies of America’s ruling regime have destabilized the Middle East, run roughshod over international law, and undermined the liberal, postwar order. Many Americans believe that their government’s domestic policies are corrupt, repressive, and discriminatory.
But if any foreign government decided to show its solidarity with our plight by pushing our economy into recession — and cutting off ordinary Americans’ access to life-saving medications — we wouldn’t for a moment mistake its act of aggression for sincere concern. Let’s not make that mistake as the Trump administration extends its thoughts and prayers to the Iranian people.