Ali Vaez explains why the Iranian government won’t give in to the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure”:
First and most important: The one thing Tehran would find more intolerable than the crushing impact of sanctions is raising the white flag because of them. Convinced that Trump’s national-security team is bent on toppling the Islamic Republic, the Iranian leadership views economic sanctions as just one in a range of measures designed to destabilize it. Its counterstrategy can be summed up in two words: Resist and survive. The mere act of survival would constitute victory, however pyrrhic.
The administration’s hard-liners are desperate to bring down the Iranian government, but in their typical heavy-handed way they have given the regime an enormous political boost. By treating all Iranians as the enemy, Trump and his allies have fed into Iranian government propaganda and they have provided the regime with the external foe that it needs most. As external pressure from the U.S. increases, the regime has a ready-made excuse for poor conditions and its increasing clampdown on internal dissent. “Maximum pressure” provokes unyielding resistance, because no government can afford to make concessions under duress without risking its own hold on power.
A new generation that experienced neither revolution nor war is forced to endure an economic war being waged upon them for no good reason. That cannot help but inspire feelings of resentment against the foreign government doing these things to them and greater willingness to support their own government. Any nation would react to unwarranted bullying with resistance, and the same goes for Iranians in spades. Vaez refers to a famous 16th century defeat of the Safavids by the Ottomans at Chaldiran (1514) as an example of how Iranians have remembered a crushing defeat as proof of courageous defiance. Many nations have similar interpretations of their great military losses. The point of reimagining these defeats as something more than a loss is to emphasize the survival and defiance in the face of greater power. To survive in the face of the determined animosity of the world’s sole superpower is itself a kind of victory, and that is why the Iranian government won’t give in.
At the same time, Iran hawks are helping to give the regime a new lease on life:
The sanctions will reduce Iran’s pro-Western middle class to tatters at a time when the country stands in front of a major transition to a post-1979 leadership. Regime hard-liners, meanwhile, stand to benefit financially from sanctions through their control of the black market and politically through their control of a repressive apparatus to put down dissent. The net effect is a country with its economy in ruins but its regime intact—a political victory snatched from the jaws of economic defeat.
Advocates for regime change in Iran like to wrap themselves up in the mantle of being on the side of the Iranian people. They say this constantly despite the overwhelming evidence that their policies impoverish and harm the people while doing relatively little damage to the regime. The truth is that they have done a great deal to give the regime an enemy to rally against, and their policies have laid waste to the internal sources of opposition to the regime. The end result is an Iran that is poorer but no freer than it was and almost certainly less free than it would have been without our constant meddling in their affairs. Our hostility helps the regime to tighten its grip and undermines Iranian opponents of their own government as they struggle to create a better future for themselves. Our bankrupt Iran policy works to wreck Iranians’ present while also helping to steal their future, and our officials still have the gall to claim to be on the side of the people whose country they are attacking.