One of the latest talking points from Iran hawks against any deal with Iran is that sanctions relief will enable the regime to use its new revenues to increase support for its proxies and allies. Like other hawkish objections to a deal, this is mistaken:
But with the budget strained by last year’s heavy fall in oil prices, and public expectations of improved socio-economic conditions in the event of a deal, the authorities will face pressure to invest new funds at home.
“The idea that Iran is going to have its pockets full of cash that it can use for discretionary purposes, I think is exaggerated,” Charles Hollis, managing director for the Middle East at FTI Consulting, said.
The hawks’ claim that a deal will “empower” Iran is as overstated as their other warnings about growing Iranian influence. For the most part, this objection is just an attempt by Iran hawks to change the subject from the nuclear issue, where they have already lost the argument, to fear-mongering about Iran’s regional policies. Nonetheless, it’s important to understand that the Iran hawks are most likely as wrong about this as they have been on everything else involving Iran for the last decade.
But even if the Iran hawks were correct that a post-deal Iran would use most of its new resources to increase support for its proxies and allies, that would be a necessary and acceptable trade-off as part of an agreement to restrict and monitor Iran’s nuclear program. Furthermore, if Iranian influence really were expanding as much as they (wrongly) claim, that would make it that much more important to impose restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. Iran hawks used to insist that limiting Iran’s nuclear program ought to be the main priority, and now that there is a realistic chance of doing so they have changed their priorities and insist that checking Iran’s regional influence is more important. When they aren’t setting impossible goals for U.S. diplomacy, Iran hawks want to switch to an entirely different debate to obscure the reality that they have already lost the debate over the negotiations.
The other major flaw in the hawks’ objection to sanctions relief is that international support for sanctions is very likely to decrease whether a deal is reached or not. Many states that have been cooperative in limiting their dealings with Iran until now will see little reason to continue applying pressure indefinitely, and they will have strong incentives to resume normal business. Whatever Iran’s government decides to do with the new revenues it gets from sanctions relief, it will soon enough be doing it with or without a nuclear deal. As far as the U.S. and its genuine allies are concerned, it would be much better to get an agreement that limits the nuclear program before international support for sanctions disappears.