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The Failure of ‘Maximum Pressure’ in Iran

Iran President Rouhani and U.S. President Trump. Drop of Light/Shutterstock and Office of President of Russia.   

Laura Rozen reports that even the Trump administration knows that its Iran policy is failing:

The Donald Trump administration conducted a preliminary internal assessment of its Iran “maximum pressure” policy this month and determined that it is not working, according to a new report.

The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy isn’t working because it seeks extraordinary Iranian concessions in exchange for little or nothing, and the administration has already proven to Iran that it can’t be trusted to honor existing agreements. Trump and Pompeo have paired extremely ambitious demands with reduced leverage and almost no international support. In practice, the administration’s campaign is very far from bringing “maximum pressure” to bear. The administration’s policy would better be described as one of “pie in the sky.”

Their problem isn’t just that the policy isn’t working so far, but that it cannot work as intended. The administration assumed that it could unilaterally squeeze Iran into yielding much more than it did when it was faced with a more comprehensive, multilateral pressure campaign, and then it drastically increased what it wanted Iran to give up. Unsurprisingly, Iran has not given an inch on any of the 12 demands that Pompeo listed last year, and it has made clear that it sees no point in negotiating with the U.S. until it rejoins the JCPOA. Since the administration’s goal is obviously one of regime change, Iran’s government has no incentive to cooperate, and without that cooperation there is no chance that the administration will get any of the changes it wants.

A smart administration would abandon the dead-end pressure campaign with unrealistic goals, but there is no sign that this administration is capable of learning from its failures. It is likely that they will keep pressing ahead with a policy that they know isn’t working because they don’t want to admit that their hostility to the nuclear deal is irrational and their pursuit of regime change is reckless.

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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