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To Help the Iranian Opposition, Lift the Sanctions

Unsurprisingly, Alireza Nader wants [1] regime change in Iran:

The U.S. has a moral duty and the strategic imperative to help Iranians in their peaceful civil disobedience campaign by providing rhetorical and material support to dissidents. The fight against the Khamenei regime’s tyranny is in principle the same as the fight against Soviet tyranny. The best deal for the United States is not a new nuclear agreement, but an entirely new Iran.

The history of U.S. interference in Iranian affairs is long, and for at least the last sixty-six years it has been mostly ugly and destructive. There is no reason to think that our government’s interference now would be any better, and there is no reason to believe that most Iranians want whatever “help” the U.S. has to offer. Nader faults Obama for not offering more support to the Green movement, but that ignores that U.S. support was not wanted and would not have helped the protesters in any case. Once upon a time, Nader had a very different view about this. He co-wrote an article [2] with Trita Parsi in which they said this:

Ultimately, the Iranian opposition has shown tremendous strength and vitality without any material support from the United States. Iran’s people, not outsiders, will be the ones to achieve sustainable democracy.

Nader is entitled to change his mind over the years, but there doesn’t appear to be any reason why U.S. material support would be wiser or better for the Iranian opposition now than it was nine years ago when he wrote those words. As Nader and Parsi said in 2010, creating an “entirely new Iran” is not up to anyone but the Iranian people. Our current policy of collective punishment and economic suffocation is making it much harder for Iranian activists and dissidents to create that new Iran, and the economic war has served only to enrich regime loyalists and strengthen the regime’s position against its domestic critics.

Providing material support to dissidents is a mistake. Iranian dissidents have enough difficulties without being attacked for taking money or other assistance from the U.S. government. Instead of potentially compromising and undermining them, the U.S. would do well to lift all of the sanctions that Trump reimposed and added over the last fourteen months. Many Iranian political activists and dissidents have made clear [3] that they oppose the sanctions, because they know better than anyone how the economic devastation they are causing hurts their efforts:

Many Iran-based human rights defenders have expressed dismay that broad economic sanctions imposed by the US and the specter of war have already made their work more difficult. Many of them are struggling to make ends meet in a depressed economy, while their activities have become increasingly risky in a heightened security environment.

Nader thinks that the U.S. should be making even more pie-in-the-sky demands than it already has:

The Trump administration and its Democratic opponents would be wise to demand not only greater nuclear restrictions, but fundamental political changes entailing freedom and prosperity for all Iranians, not just a select group of Revolutionary Guards and ruling clerics.

There is no wisdom in making demands that we know in advance will be rejected. The Iranian government is not going to be coerced into liberalizing. Regimes that are threatened and sanctioned typically tighten their control and increase their repression. Nader’s comparison with the Soviet Union is wrong for a few reasons, not least since he doesn’t understand that the reforms and political opening that took place inside the USSR occurred alongside increased U.S. engagement and a reduction in tensions. Increased pressure on Iran will just cause the regime to clamp down harder internally, and the “new Iran” Nader imagines will take even longer to emerge.

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