Having created the crisis with Iran by waging economic war on the country, the Trump administration is preparing to escalate the economic war even further:
The Trump administration already moved this spring to cut off all revenues from Iranian oil exports, the lifeblood of the nation’s economy, and the new sanctions are expected to be aimed at shutting down additional sources of income with the goal of forcing political change in Tehran.
Mr. Trump and his top foreign policy aides are gambling that continuing the squeeze on Iran will compel its leaders to buckle to demands to limit their nuclear program in ways that go beyond the landmark agreement that major world powers forged with Iran in 2015 — and that Mr. Trump withdrew from last year.
The illegitimate reimposition of sanctions on Iran is the main cause of increased tensions between our governments, and piling on additional sanctions can only make those tensions worse. The more pressure that the U.S. puts on the Iranian government, the less willing the Iranian government will be to make concessions. They are determined to resist the pressure campaign, and that means that intensifying the campaign just suffocates ordinary people even more. The economic war on Iran is cruel and unjustified, and it is not going to get the administration what it wants.
Salar Abdoh, an Iranian novelist, wrote a very important op-ed last week describing the effects of the sanctions on the people in Iran:
One of the few stores on 30 Tir Street that still attracts customers is run by Abbasi, a retired army officer who repairs household gadgets — people cannot afford to buy new stuff. “Well, isn’t this already war?” he asked, without much rancor. It’s a question many Iranians ask themselves these days.
Since the Trump administration reimposed sanctions last year, Iran’s oil exports have fallen by more than half, the Iranian rial has lost more than 60 percent of its value against the dollar in the past year and inflation has reached 37 percent. The Iranian economy contracted by 4 percent in 2018 and is expected to contract by 6 percent this year.
The sanctions are ultimately about individual lives: a relative’s immunosuppressive meds after a liver transplant suddenly skyrocketing in price and nearly disappearing from the market; a painter of some renown ceasing to practice her craft after 30 years because of the now prohibitive cost of art material; young professionals without jobs leaving Tehran in large numbers to try their luck in smaller, less expensive towns.
The price of paper has increased fivefold; the price of car parts, four times. Most fruits have become luxury items, many families can’t afford meat and factories in the provinces are shutting down.
The predictable result of the destructive Iran policy has been to destroy the hopes and aspirations of Iranians and to deprive them of the things they need to live and work. This is a policy that cuts off the sick from access to their medicine and ruins the lives of innocent strangers in a vain effort to compel a government these people don’t control to abandon what the government believes to be core security interests. The weakest and most vulnerable members of society pay the highest price for policies they can’t change, and the demands are so onerous and excessive that no self-respecting government would ever agree to them.
The Trump administration remains wedded to the delusion that they can force Iran’s capitulation:
“The administration is not really interested in negotiations now,” said Robert Einhorn, a former senior State Department official who was involved in negotiations with Iranian officials during the Obama administration. “It wants to give sanctions more time to make the Iranians truly desperate, at which point it hopes the negotiations will be about the terms of surrender.”
The core assumption of this policy is based on a deeply flawed view of Iran. The administration assumes that sufficient pressure will lead to desperation and then that desperation will lead to surrender. It is much more likely that increasing desperation will make the Iranian government increasingly defiant and more willing to take risks. If the U.S. seeks to increase its leverage, Iran is likely to do the same thing. Trying to strangle a nation into submission naturally provokes struggle and resistance because it is normal to fight back when someone seeks your demise.
It would be wrong to strangle a population of more than 80 million people even if it yielded some change in regime behavior, but to do this when there is no realistic chance of “success” is to inflict collective punishment for its own sake. No U.S. interests are served by crushing Iranians with hardship and poverty, and nothing good can come from a campaign to destroy the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of people. The Iranian people are not our enemy, but our government is waging relentless economic war on them anyway. This is outrageous, it is wrong, and the next administration must act quickly to bring it to an end.