U.S. sanctions following Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal entered into force on Tuesday. The Iranian people will be the first affected. For its part, the mullahs’ regime will once again stand resilient despite a moribund economy.
“Insanity,” said Albert Einstein, “is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” By imposing new sanctions after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, Donald Trump’s administration wants to strangle the Islamic Republic’s economy and provoke regime change. The administration is convinced that the pressure it exerts will force Iran to agree to negotiate a comprehensive agreement, spanning nuclear weapons, the ballistic program and Tehran’s harmful activities in the Middle East.
But, as we’ve seen with Iraq and Libya, regime change policy leads to chaos. Popular discontent is considerable in Iran, but disparate. It is also insufficient to endanger the regime, which may be less stable, but which is known for its resilience. Anti-regime demonstrations have certainly multiplied recently. With rampant inflation, a currency in free fall and a shortage of medicines, the Iranian people are suffering. The hopes born from the nuclear agreement were based on Iran’s desire for openness. But these hopes have been disappointing. Tehran has not lived up to the openness that Barack Obama thought would be sparked. After provoking enormous frustration among the people, Iranian leaders invested astronomical sums to expand Iran’s presence in Syria, its loyal Arab ally. But if Hassan Rouhani was twice elected to the presidency, it was precisely because everyone believed in his ability to de-compartmentalize the country and its economy.
The failure is partially Rouhani’s, but it’s also that the regime and the president essentially play the role of executing the supreme leader’s wishes. Now, regime hard-liners are gleefully rubbing their hands — Trump has put them back in the saddle. But those who will suffer from the sanctions are, as always, the simple people. It won’t be the Revolutionary Guard, whose business has never done better than when Iran is under sanctions.
Finally, the front against Tehran has broken. Europeans, who still believe in the virtues of a nuclear agreement that Iran, according to the U.N., has fully respected, are trying hard to salvage what they can. But the “blocking law” that went into effect on Tuesday to protect European companies seeking to invest in Iran will be more symbolic than real in effect. If companies have interests in the much larger American market, they won’t take any risks in Iran. But Tehran should be able to count on one strong ally. Beijing has already announced that it will continue to import Iranian oil, and it even intends to work closely with Tehran on its Pharaonic infrastructure project, “One Belt, One Road.” Without Chinese, or even Russian, support, Trump’s policy, backed by Israel and Saudi Arabia, risks falling flat, unless there is a war that would have devastating repercussions in the region.