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How U.S. Iran Policy Hurts Iran and America

Amid the myriad cruelties of the Trump administration, its Iran policy rates perhaps a six or seven on a scale of ten. After all, Iranians who come to the United States have not been separated from their children who were sent to faraway places and kept in cages. Then again, not many Iranians are coming to the U.S. anymore.

But the same animus that motivates U.S. policy toward Latin American asylum-seekers runs through recent U.S. actions against Iran and will also be damaging to the U.S. economy.

Despite claims that the Trump administration “stands with the Iranian people”—repeated on July 2 by the State Department policy planning chief Brian Hook—the negative impact of U.S. policies falls most heavily on ordinary Iranians.

It is not just that the Trump administration is seeking to starve the Islamic Republic of its oil income—despite Iran’s full implementation of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Iranians—from grandparents of American citizens to graduate students—are being barred entry to the U.S. on false grounds that they threaten U.S. national security. This is happening despite the fact that Iranians have made substantial contributions [1] to our economy and society and no Iranian granted a visa to come to the U.S. has conducted an act of terrorism on U.S. soil.


The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to uphold the Trump administration’s third iteration of the travel ban against a half-dozen mostly Muslim-majority nations—of which Iran is the most populous—came on June 26. Barely an hour later, a State Department official, speaking on background, told journalists that the U.S. goal in quitting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is to reduce Iran’s oil exports to “zero” by Nov. 4. Hook repeated this on July 2.

This is a double whammy that some in Washington, Jerusalem, Riyadh, or Abu Dhabi might think could provoke a positive change in Iranian policies, if not the overthrow of Iran’s 40-year-old theocratic regime. But these steps are unlikely to alter Iran’s regional posture and will likely strengthen the most repressive forces at home.

Hook left a little wiggle room about the oil embargo, saying that the U.S., while not looking to grant waivers, is “prepared to work with countries that are reducing imports on a case-by-case basis.” China, India, and Turkey have all said that they will not stop importing Iranian oil just because Washington tells them to. Still, there is no doubt that Iranian exports will decline because of the threat of U.S. legal action against foreign companies that continue to trade with Iran. This will contribute to a deepening economic and political crisis there.

Uncertainty over the survival of the JCPOA after Trump’s election had already weakened Iran’s economy, deterred foreign companies from investing, and devalued the currency before Trump withdrew from the deal on May 8. Since then, the rial has plunged even further [2] in relation to the dollar as a full-scale panic has taken hold. Protests and strikes by Iranian merchants reflect this panic and may also have been stoked by hardline political factions [3] opposed to the government of President Hassan Rouhani.

While Rouhani appears to retain the support of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hardliners are plotting to return to power in parliamentary elections in 2020 and presidential polling in 2021. We have seen this movie before—when President George W. Bush put Iran on an “axis of evil,” boosting the fortunes of a then relatively obscure mayor named Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Defeating a pragmatist, Ahmadinejad won election as president in 2005 and a fraud-tainted re-election in 2009. Iran accelerated its nuclear program, which had been largely suspended for two years while Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, was in office. That program could now resume a dangerous trajectory at a time when the purported gains of the Trump administration’s nuclear diplomacy with North Korea look increasingly dubious [4].

The Bush administration, which outsourced nuclear negotiations with Iran to Britain, France, and Germany in 2003, gave Iran its biggest geopolitical boost by overthrowing its nemesis, Saddam Hussein, that same year. Two years later, the U.S. insisted on holding elections in Iraq that empowered the country’s Shi’ite Muslim majority and militant parties long groomed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Iranian regional influence has since expanded as IRGC-backed forces helped Iraq defeat the Islamic State, prop up Syria’s brutal regime, consolidate Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon and bolster Houthi rebels in Yemen against a Saudi-Emirati counterassault. Iran will almost certainly have more say in the formation of the next Iraqi government than the U.S.

The Trump administration seems to be betting that economic pressure alone will force Iran to reduce its regional entanglements. But the U.S. refusal to increase the American military footprint in the region means that Iran’s Shi’ite proxies will likely continue to prevail. America’s Arab allies possess the latest American high-tech weapons but don’t have the capacity to defeat Iran’s militias on the ground.

While Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—with U.S. logistical support—continue to bomb Yemen, creating the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Twitter account blames Iran [5] for the crisis. It is an “Alice Through the Looking Glass” interpretation that has drawn cries of hypocrisy given U.S. neglect of human rights in more authoritarian countries and the shameful treatment of asylum-seekers on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Iran, of course, is guilty of many human rights abuses. Iranians inside and outside Iran profoundly want change and to see the country achieve its true potential. U.S. accession to the JCPOA provided a basis and a diplomatic channel for Washington to aggressively pursue those other goals. But having quit the nuclear deal despite Iranian compliance, the Trump administration cannot realistically expect more concessions from Tehran on other issues.

Barbara Slavin directs the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council. The views expressed here are her own.

23 Comments (Open | Close)

23 Comments To "How U.S. Iran Policy Hurts Iran and America"

#1 Comment By Procivic On July 3, 2018 @ 3:10 am

If the circle of friends are indicative of one’s values, Trump has dragged the U.S. to new lows by sitting with the likes of Saudi “princes” and the sheikhs of Persian Gulf of petrostates. Helping them to destroy Yemen, an ancient culture devoid of an air force and air defenses, places America in the spotlight as an accessory to war crimes.

#2 Comment By Nasse Farimani On July 3, 2018 @ 9:44 am

Barbara Slavin is a useful idiot and apologist for the Islamic Republic. The vast majority of Iranians despise her

#3 Comment By Morristown Monitor On July 3, 2018 @ 11:08 am

“But these steps are unlikely to alter Iran’s regional posture and will likely strengthen the most repressive forces at home.”

I think that’s Israel’s intention, though Netanyahu hasn’t said it in so many words. Still, if Israel hadn’t ordered Trump and Pompeo to do this, it wouldn’t be happening.

“Iran, of course, is guilty of many human rights abuses. “

Got that right. Not quite at the level of Saudi Arabia’s wholesale murder and starving of civilians in Yemen, or Israel’s killing of hundreds of protestors and shooting off the legs of thousands more in Gaza, but yes, Iran is guilty of most of the same human rights abuses amply documented for Saudi Arabia and Israel – arbitrary detention, limited freedom of assembly, torture, discrimination against women, ethnic and religious minorities.

One wonders why we don’t sever relations with such countries. Or maybe one doesn’t.

#4 Comment By Roy Fassel On July 3, 2018 @ 11:33 am

It started with the Iraq War, which enlarged Iran’s regional power.

NO, it didn’t. It started with the CIA helped overthrow a democratically elected government and replaced it with the Shah. Since then, Iranians do not trust American. During the devastating Iraq-Iran War of the 1980s, America supported Saddam Hussein and provided military intelligence. And we wonder, why the mistrust?

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 3, 2018 @ 12:17 pm

The problem here is the constant equivocating. constantly referring to iran’s human rights violations and those of other states , such as syria’s “brutality” doesn’t make a case for why we shouldn’t hold iran to account buy why we should.

the us is not and should not be the sole arbiter of what constitutes brutality in other states – period. in one breath you undermine the case by making the admin point.

Suffice it to say, that minus any violations of the treaty in question, we lack justification not to honor it. doing so does not mean that there are not outstanding concerns about iran’s policies internally or externally. it does however acknowledge that the us recognizes the sovereignty of other nations. While we should register some diplomatic efforts to end “brutality” — the internal affairs minus genocide is their business and none of our own. if the states in the region see a need to take on iran, that is their business – that includes israel. it is long past time for her to engage her neighbors or not as a member of the regional community.

i think it is high time for us to accept that the rebels won the conflict in yemen and deal with the winners as the controlling party. If we failed to intervene and prevent that effort. There’s no reason to justify doing so now. In more than seven years of bombing and fighting, neither nato nor coalition forces have changed events on the ground. If saudi arabia wants ti engage in what she thinks is a proxie war with the iran via yemen that is her business and not that of the us.

There was a justifiable event to invade iran. it is when she invaded us territory in taking the us embassy. that still smarts, but nothing today warrants a us invasion. if israel, saudi arabia and jordon or others seek to deny what they believe iranian undue influence – that is their business and their affair.

the same factions that wanted to remove pres hussein are the same ones itching to invade iran based on what has been presented thus far — picture perfect nonsense.

#6 Comment By b. On July 3, 2018 @ 12:31 pm

“bolster Houthi rebels in Yemen against a Saudi-Emirati counterassault”

I am sick and tired of this gorup unthink on display. It is approach the same level as “North Vietnam is a puppet of Moscow”.

I know that the foundation of US elite thinking is that nobody but themselves and their buddies have any agency worth considering, but I am astonished at how many third tier “players” believe themselves to be part of that elite.

#7 Comment By Kurt Gayle On July 3, 2018 @ 3:38 pm

From the movie “Jerry Maguire” Renee Zellweger to Tom Cruise “You had me at hello.”


Kurt Gayle to Barbara Slavin: YOU LOST ME AT HELLO!

Your opening – your “hello” – is nothing more than a scurrilous, partisan attack regarding an unrelated issue. Listen to yourself:

“Amid the myriad cruelties of the Trump administration…after all, Iranians who come to the United States have not been separated from their children who were sent to faraway places and kept in cages.”

Why would you open with such an emotional diatribe unrelated to the issue at hand?

I’m a strong Trump supporter, but I (like many Trump supporters) agree with you that President Trump’s pulling the US out of the JCPOA – as well as many other subsequent US actions against Iran – are foreign policy errors that are not in the US national interest.

And many of us who are Trump supporters – and who agree with you on Iran — are constantly on the lookout for articles that might persuade other Trump supporters to join us in emailing President Trump with our displeasure re his current Iran policies.

But how to you expect Trump supporters to read past your hysterical, wrong-headed, partisan opening?

I know that you’re coming from a Democratic Party/Barack Obama world, Ms. Slavin, but you have a strong background re Iran, you have important things to say, and you need to reach out to ALL AMERICANS with your opinions – not just Democrats.

So, please, please drop the partisan, totally unrelated opening. Don’t make Trump supporters react with “You lost me at hello!”

#8 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 3, 2018 @ 3:54 pm

“NO, it didn’t. It started with the CIA helped overthrow a democratically elected government and replaced it with the Shah. Since then, Iranians do not trust American.”

Speaking of agency it’s high time we threw off the yoke about the iranian coupe. it is accurate the us supported it. however, it was an iranian affair and iranians carried it out and would have even without us support.

#9 Comment By Cynthia McLean On July 3, 2018 @ 3:56 pm

Damn, I hope other countries, especially those involved in the Iran nuclear agreement, refuse to follow US sanctions and sabre-rattling intent on leading to regime change. The US has become the #1 rogue nation in the world seemingly intent only upon profits to its military industrial complex.

#10 Comment By GaryH On July 3, 2018 @ 3:59 pm

“This is happening despite the fact that Iranians have made substantial contributions to our economy and society and no Iranian granted a visa to come to the U.S. has conducted an act of terrorism on U.S. soil.”

How many Saudis granted a US visa have conducted an act of terrorism on US soil?

Why is the US in bed with Saudi Arabia? How many acts of terrorism directed at civilians is the US party to because of its alliance with the Saudis?

#11 Comment By Jeeves On July 3, 2018 @ 4:04 pm

@Nasse Farimani says:
July 3, 2018 at 9:44 am
Barbara Slavin is a useful idiot and apologist for the Islamic Republic. The vast majority of Iranians despise her

The most useful comment in this thread. In an opinion piece ostensibly about Iran, Slavin can’t help injecting (twice!) the usual ravings about Central American asylum seekers. This article should be entitled “Here Are Some of the Reasons I Hate Trump. Pick a Card.”

While I’m sure the mullahs will never leave off excoriating America for the overthrow Mossadegh, I doubt very much that it informs the grievances of Iranian youth–some of whom might even be aware that the CIA’s role was far less important than knee-jerk anti-imperialists are wont to make it.

#12 Comment By National Front of Iran On July 3, 2018 @ 4:37 pm

@Nasse Farimani
You sound like an MEK supporter with your clear ignorance. Nobody is supporting the mullahs; just pointing out the flawed Iran policy of the Trump administration.

Sound imperialist much? What would you know about the pillaging that ensued following the reinstatement of the puppet Shah?

#13 Comment By Twit’s Tweets On July 3, 2018 @ 7:04 pm

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Twitter account blames Iran for the crisis.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo only knows what Netanyahu tells him, or what MBS tells him. He says a lot of off the wall stuff for that reason.

It’s worth mentioning the possibility that Pompeo’s Twitter account isn’t operated by Pompeo himself, and that the ridiculous stuff that tends to issue from it is the work of one of the TSA rejects he hired to replace all the experienced diplomats who are resigning.

#14 Comment By a spencer On July 3, 2018 @ 8:04 pm

I guess some of us just have different experiences of Iran. I know people in Iran who worked with Barbara and they had a lot of respect for her.

I’m also guessing the “vast majority of Iranians” have no idea who she is.

In addition to “regime apologist” I’ve also seen her labeled “staunch Zionist”, so there ya go!

#15 Comment By a spencer On July 3, 2018 @ 9:15 pm

Kurt, you’ve always seemed like a nice guy and if we lived next to each other, I think we’d be good neighbors. But its hard to take you seriously right now.

>>Why would you open with such an emotional diatribe unrelated to the issue at hand?

Because its part and parcel to what a lot of people are seeing across a spectrum. Most – not all! – of the Congressional leaders on Iran and Yemen are Democrats. The GOP and its vocal cheerleaders have been relentlessly anti-Iran, and increasingly, specifically, anti-Shia the entire 21st Century. Its a cottage industry!

Now add punitive tariffs. And sanctions. And children. Its like Sound of Music: all it needs is a dog.

Anyway, Kurt, Happy 4th! Bbq in the backyard again. Come on by!

#16 Comment By a spencer On July 3, 2018 @ 10:06 pm

“useful idiot” is not a trump card (no pun intended). Let’s all agree to stop using it.

#17 Comment By Wayne Lusvardi On July 3, 2018 @ 11:28 pm

I’m curious how this article written by a Harvard educated Russian literature grad and self-proclaimed foreign policy expert connected with the liberal Al-Monitor and the Atlantic Council end up at the American Conservative? The New York Times describes Al-Monitor as a “pro-Assad Lebanese newspaper”. Are we to presume there is a mutual affinity between Al-Monitor, the Atlantic Council and the American Conservative in their effort to bash Trump and Trumpian policies? It sure appears so.

#18 Comment By Wayne Lusvardi On July 3, 2018 @ 11:53 pm

And we ought to be worried about Trump’s Iran policy harming the Iranian people? Read below from Amnesty International:

IRAN 2017/2018
The authorities heavily suppressed the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as freedom of religion and belief, and imprisoned scores of individuals who voiced dissent. Trials were systematically unfair. Torture and other ill-treatment was widespread and committed with impunity. Floggings, amputations and other cruel punishments were carried out. The authorities endorsed pervasive discrimination and violence based on gender, political opinion, religious belief, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. Hundreds of people were executed, some in public, and thousands remained on death row. They included people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.

#19 Comment By a spencer On July 4, 2018 @ 12:42 am

if you don’t mind, allow me to cherry-pick this for brevity’s sake:

Slavin has been to the places she writes about.

“foreign policy expert”
Certainly you have some idea how many US Middle East TV “experts” don’t even speak French, let alone Arabic and certainly not Farsi? MEMRI can be funny, but its not a source. Byline: Beirut doesn’t actually cut it for Damascus, Aleppo or Sanaa.

“end up at the American Conservative?”

#20 Comment By Wizard On July 5, 2018 @ 2:10 am

An Iranian affair that would have happened without US support, EliteCommInc.? Maybe so, but it would have failed without US support, so we still own it.

#21 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 7, 2018 @ 12:43 am

the cia thought it would fail anyway. the support provided by the us was not instrumental in the coupe. the country was aalready hot with tension —

the military and economic elite had no intention of relinquishing power and the cia nor great britain could not have possibly carried out the internal networking required. if one examines the after action reports it’s clear that the iranians were none to happy with the the suggestion that it was a successful coupe by the cia.

logistically, and socially a near impossibility.

#22 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 7, 2018 @ 12:55 am

” Maybe so, but it would have failed without US support, so we still own it.”

you don’t get a clearing of those eliets until the islamic revolution in which scaffolds made sure of it. And yet i suspect that in the enclaves of the mech and others, there’s a a strong remnant of the previous — seeking a way back in.

After all the revolution only succeeded because the shah’s state’s liquid assets froze which in turn stifled the economy, resulting in the inability for the population get basic goods, services, water, food and medicine . . .

and the shah’s security responded to the natural resulting protests with a very heavy and disastrous consequence.

Note it was not until the election of pres reagan that the educated class and students realized that spent 444 days humiliating the only president who was in any was sympathetic to their issues. Another mistaken assessment they have refused to take responsibility for.

No. the coupe was an iranian affair and was successful because of the iranians involved, not ten cia operatives handing out signs and cash.

#23 Comment By John Dirlik On July 9, 2018 @ 4:36 pm

Iran is a threat…to Israel’s unquenchable thirst for ever-increasing regional dominance.

A decade before Irgun terrorism helped convince the British to hand over Palestine to the UN (1937), David Ben-Gurion candidly articulated Zionist strategy: “We shall accept a state with fixed boundaries today but the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor can limit them.”

Iran (through Hezbollah) ended Israel’s 18-year occupation of South Lebanon, it (though Hamas) pushed Israel out of Gaza and (with Russia) just scuttled Israel’s regime-change machinations in Syria.

Iran’s cardinal sin and unpardonable crime (its “terrorism”) is that it dares “limit Zionist aspirations.”