Holly Dagres comments on the unifying effect that Trump’s hostility is having on opposing factions inside Iran:
Throughout Rouhani’s presidency, in the lead up to and after the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), there has been a tug-of-war between his pragmatic faction and more hardline groups. The US decision to quit the JCPOA and the mounting propaganda war emanating from Pompeo’s State Department have managed to convince the factions to put aside their differences in opposition to the United States.
The Trump administration’s obsession with Iran is matched only by its lack of understanding of Iranian politics. In his bad speech on Sunday, Pompeo made a point of denying that Rouhani and Zarif were relative moderates within the Iranian government:
Some believe that President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif fit that bill. The truth is they are merely polished front men for the ayatollahs’ international con artistry. Their nuclear deal didn’t make them moderates; it made them wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Pompeo’s use of the nuclear deal to make his point was a particularly poor choice on his part, since it is their support for engagement and negotiating the nuclear deal are among the main things that distinguish Rouhani and Zarif from their more hard-line, “principlist” domestic critics. The nuclear deal didn’t “make them moderates” in the context of Iranian politics. It was their relative moderation in the context of Iranian politics that made the nuclear deal possible. Like everything else connected with the nuclear deal, Trump and Pompeo can’t or won’t understand this, and so they ignore the real political divisions inside Iran while they embrace an ideological fantasy instead.
Iran hawks take it as an article of faith that the distinctions and rivalries between moderates and hard-liners in Iran are meaningless, and so they pay no attention to how their preferred policies affect the political dynamic inside the country. Hard-line U.S. policies consistently boost Iranian hard-liners’ fortunes at the expense of relative moderates that are open to engagement with the West, so Iran hawks just pretend that everyone in the regime is equally hard-line so that they won’t be blamed for empowering the worst elements. They don’t understand the regime that they want to destroy, and so they stupidly act in ways that help to shore it up and strengthen the most hard-line forces within it. The more pressure that the U.S. puts on Iran, the more that it helps the regime consolidate its hold on power. We have seen the same thing with one sanctions regime after another from Iraq to Myanmar to Sudan. The Trump administration doesn’t just punish the Iranian people with its cruel and punitive policies, but it also helps to prolong the regime’s grip on the country. Hard-liners feed off of foreign threats and external pressure, and Trump is providing Iran’s hard-liners with plenty of both.