Home/Daniel Larison/The Collective Punishment of Strangling the Iranian People

The Collective Punishment of Strangling the Iranian People

Trump’s decision to eliminate sanctions waivers for the remaining importers of Iranian oil compounds his earlier destructive decisions to renege on the JCPOA and reimpose sanctions. This will almost certainly impose higher costs on American consumers, cause economic difficulties for several of our allies and top trading partners, and serve as a drag on the global economy. If China and India refuse to halt all oil purchases, that could lead to the imposition of secondary sanctions and a series of back-and-forth retaliatory measures that would damage all of our countries. To the extent that the U.S. relies on Saudi and Emirati oil to make up the shortfall in supply, that makes the U.S. more dependent on two of its worst clients at a time when Trump is already absurdly subservient to both. And it will all be for nothing.

The “maximum pressure” campaign has so far predictably failed to make the Iranian regime comply with any of the unreasonable U.S. demands Pompeo made last summer, and intensifying that pressure cannot succeed because the demands are too onerous for any government to accept. Almost all of the demands that the Trump administration has made don’t even advance U.S. interests, so it will gain us nothing if they were to comply, but the intensified pressure does risk driving Iran out of the nuclear deal and potentially creating a new crisis over the nuclear issue that could lead to war. This is all the more ridiculous when Iran remains in compliance with the nuclear deal despite repeated U.S. provocations aimed at forcing them to abandon the agreement. During his announcement today, Mike Pompeo included the dishonest suggestion that Iran was still seeking nuclear weapons:

“We have made our demands very clear to the ayatollah and his cronies. End your pursuit of nuclear weapons. Stop testing and proliferating ballistic missiles. Stop sponsoring and committing terrorism. Halt the arbitrary detention of U.S. citizens,” Pompeo said.

Iran cannot end its pursuit of nuclear weapons when it already did so more than 15 years ago. The fact that U.S. officials keep making this impossible demand more than three years after Iran signed the JCPOA is proof that this administration has no real interest in negotiating anything. Pompeo once again confirmed that Iran has no way to get out from under these sanctions because there is nothing it can do to satisfy an administration that refuses to take yes for an answer.

It is difficult to come up with a policy that is all downside risk and no discernible benefit for the U.S. while causing enormous harm to millions of people without good cause, but that is what Trump’s bankrupt Iran policy does. The policy is simultaneously feckless, cruel, unjust, and irrational, and it has absolutely nothing to do with making America and Americans safer.

The one guaranteed effect of tightening sanctions is to inflict even more punishment on the Iranian people for no good reason:

Strangling Iran’s economy has always been purely punitive, and as always it is the most vulnerable and poorest that will be punished the most for policies they don’t control and can’t change. This policy cannot “work” in achieving regime change or in changing regime behavior, but the use of collective punishment would make it wrong even if there was a chance that it might. The Iranian people are not our enemy and have done nothing to us, but the Trump administration is determined to cause them increasing pain and misery as they carry out a spiteful vendetta.

The timing of this latest decision is exceptionally cruel even by Trump’s standards, since it comes on the heels of the massive flood disaster this spring that has affected an estimated ten million Iranians:

Of these ten million Iranians, 2 million are severely affected and half a million people have been displaced. To date, the U.S. has offered no assistance or funding to aid in relief efforts, and the administration has made no effort to waive sanctions to permit aid to be delivered. All that the administration is willing to offer are empty pledges of support that are contradicted by their every action.

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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