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Rejecting Collective Punishment and Regime Change

Bessma Momani has written a very good op-ed on the impasse between the U.S. and Iran:

But Iran’s economic suffering is the Trump administration’s intended outcome. War hawks in the Trump administration, including national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, want to see the Iranian regime collapse through hurtful economic sanctions. They are not seeking a new international deal or even renewed negotiations, regardless of U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweets to the contrary.

The intended goal of the sanctions is to break Iran from within; to effectively achieve regime change without devoting U.S. troops and military to the region. This is fanciful thinking, of course, as the Iranian regime is deeply entrenched in power, highly militarized and willing to sacrifice its own people to survive. But the regime-collapse agenda follows the misguided foreign-policy tactics of the entire U.S. administration under Mr. Trump.

Momani’s description of the policy is exactly right and just as I would have put it. This is the policy of collective punishment and regime change that we need to be debating and opposing instead of wasting time talking about the administration’s meaningless rhetoric about negotiations. We should always judge government policies by what they actually do and not by what officials tell us they are supposed to be doing. When administration officials deny that they seek regime change, we should ignore the denial and pay attention to the economic war they are waging in order to topple the regime. When they claim to be on the side of the people, we should dismiss that and look instead at the massive suffering that the sanctions are causing tens of millions of ordinary Iranians. When they say they don’t want war, don’t forget who has been responsible for ratcheting up tensions for the last year. The administration can spin their cruel policy any way they like, but we should not take their self-serving claims at face value.

The administration wants to cause tremendous economic hardship and they want to impoverish the entire population, and they doing this on the foolish assumption that this will bring down the government. These are not unforeseen, much less unintended, consequences of “maximum pressure.” The administration isn’t going to force regime collapse, but in making the attempt they are committing a terrible injustice against more than eighty million Iranians. If the administration were successful, they would be condemning the country and the surrounding region to many years of instability, upheaval, and violence. This is a policy that suffocates and strangles innocent people in pursuit of a purely destructive goal. The U.S. shouldn’t be pursuing this goal, and it shouldn’t be inflicting collective punishment on the Iranian people no matter what.

The “maximum pressure” campaign has clearly demonstrated both the cruelty and futility of sanctions, and it has shown why Americans should reject collective punishment as a foreign policy tool and why we should reject regime change as a goal.

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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