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‘Maximum Pressure’ Has to Be Stopped

Iran President Rouhani and U.S. President Trump. Drop of Light/Shutterstock and Office of President of Russia.   

Henry Rome assesses the results of the last year of U.S. economic warfare on Iran. He concludes his article with this:

Neither the Islamic Republic nor its regional activities have suffered a deathblow from the return of sanctions. But diplomacy involving the United States and Iran may have taken a fatal hit. Third parties will persist in trying to bring Washington and Tehran back to the table—but they will likely fail. Khamenei likely views Iran’s domestic and regional situation as stable, and so he will feel no need to allow high-level meetings between Iranian officials and a U.S. administration perceived as hostile—especially during an election year in the United States. Instead of diplomacy—and instead of collapsing—Tehran will continue its provocative behavior. The second year of maximum pressure may be more tumultuous than the first.

When the U.S. began reimposing sanctions last year, it was clear that these sanctions weren’t going to cause the government to collapse or capitulate on policies that it considers important to its own security. The “maximum pressure” campaign has been driven by two false ideas: anything short of Iranian capitulation is an unacceptable compromise, and sufficient pressure can compel Iranian capitulation. When the pressure campaign predictably provoked resistance and opposition rather than submission, the Trump administration’s only answer has been to intensify the pressure campaign. For Iran hawks, sanctions are only supposed to be imposed and strengthened and never relaxed, and that has meant that the only thing they know how to do is to try to strangle Iran’s economy with more and more restrictions.

Rome’s conclusion seems correct. It is practically guaranteed that there will be more Iranian resistance as the Trump administration insists on applying more pressure, and by any reasonable standard that proves that the “maximum pressure” campaign has failed in its stated goals. But killing the prospects of future diplomacy is definitely something that opponents of the JCPOA have wanted, and on that purely destructive score they appear to be getting what they want. The economic war has hurt the Iranian people, and it has discredited the idea of engagement with the U.S. inside Iran, and it has also made the U.S.-Iranian relationship worse and more antagonistic than before. A radical change in U.S. policy and leadership will be necessary to break the current impasse, but it may not be enough at this point.

Iran keeps emphasizing that its steps to reduce compliance with the JCPOA are reversible, and the U.S. must also be prepared to reverse the aggressive measures that this administration has taken against them in order to get Iran to undo what they have done over the last few months. As long as the U.S. remains determined to try to strangle Iran until their government surrenders, the worse tensions between our governments will get and the less likely it is that the nuclear deal can be salvaged. Only Iran hawks and hard-liners want that outcome, and so it is important that we continue to oppose and condemn the economic war that has brought things to this point.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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