Jason Rezaian calls for trading with Iran instead of trying to strangle it with sanctions:

Instead, all we’ve done — and this goes back to the Reagan administration and everyone who has followed it — is to tie the hands of Iran’s private sector, limiting its efficacy as a cultural and economic force. You can’t support Iran’s civil society if you simultaneously favor efforts to destroy the country’s economy.

It is possible that expanded trade with Iran wouldn’t change much, but we already know that piling on sanctions just strengthens the regime’s grip and stifles political change. Even if engagement and trade don’t lead to significant changes in the political system at some point, millions and millions of Iranians would still be far better off than they are under a cruel policy of economic suffocation. Trading with Iran would help ordinary Iranians prosper, and that is much more likely to produce political and social change than grinding millions of people deeper into poverty. It would be a far more defensible and moral policy than deliberately impoverishing an entire nation in the vain hope of triggering some sort of uprising, and it would create professional and personal ties between Americans and Iranians that would help to close the rift that exists between our countries. It would also give many American businesses a stake in the Iranian market, and that would create a constituency that would have a reason to oppose future sanctions tantrums.

Rezaian is absolutely right that you “can’t support Iran’s civil society if you simultaneously favor efforts to destroy the country’s economy,” and unfortunately the people that want to do the latter are one of the big obstacles that stands in the way of a normal trading relationship. Sanctions advocates have no real interest in supporting Iran’s civil society, and their priority is to keep Iran isolated and as poor as they can make it. Iran hawks may pay lip service to Iranians’ grievances, but the truth is that they want to make those grievances more severe in the destructive pursuit of forcing the Iranian government to do what they want. That is why leading sanctions advocates publicly delight in the deteriorating economic conditions inside Iran. As long as people like that have a major role in shaping Iran policy, there can’t be any progress in establishing normal trade relations with Iran. The current administration has no desire to improve relations with Iran, but perhaps the next one or the one after that will be ready to recognize the futility and cruelty of punishing the people for the regime’s actions.