Gage Skidmore / Flickr Mike Pompeo...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

As expected, as part of its previously announced withdrawal from the multilateral 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, the Trump regime reimposed economic sanctions on the Islamic republic early Monday. The sanctions are directed at Iran’s shipping, banking, and energy sectors. The stated objective is to cut Iranian revenue from oil exports to zero, which means more damage to the already beleaguered Iranian economy and a severe financial pinching of average citizens there.

Any nation that buys Iranian oil will itself be penalized—secondary sanctions—unless they are one of the few granted an exemption. White House officials say eight nations will get those, but only temporarily to give some of Iran’s biggest oil customers a little more time to arrange their purchases elsewhere. The eight include China, India, and Turkey. In anticipation of sanctions being opposed, importing nations have already reduced their buys of Iranian oil from 2.8 million barrels per day in April to 1.9 million bpd last month.

While the stated rationale for the sanctions is that the nuclear agreement is a terrible deal that doesn’t do enough to keep Iran from building nuclear weapons if it wants to, does nothing to curb its development of ballistic missiles, and doesn’t force it to stop actions that destabilize the Middle East to advance its political interests. But neither ballistic missiles nor Iranian actions outside its borders were part of the agreement in the first place. And Donald Trump and his minions can only claim that Iran has violated the agreement if they outright lie. Not that they are above doing so.

The agreement—formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—established that in exchange for a lifting of economic sanctions Iran would curtail various aspects of its nuclear development program that could provide all that is needed for quickly manufacturing nuclear weapons if a green-light to do so were given. The International Atomic Energy Agency is charged with verifying compliance of all parties. In the past three years, it has concluded a dozen reports affirming that Iran is fully complying.

This fact is no doubt one reason the White House didn’t go through the straightforward process developed to deal with complaints about violations of the agreement under U.N. Security Council’s Resolution 2231. That process would have found just about every nation that matters opposed to renewed sanctions because there are no legitimate grounds for reimposing them. Rather than accept that, better from Trump’s point of view just to ignore the resolution and plunge ahead regardless of what U.S. allies have to say about it.

It’s clear that the underlying real goal the White House seeks is one that neoconservatives and their enablers have promoted for a long time—regime change in Iran.

In 2014 when he was just a Kansas congressman, Mike Pompeo, now secretary of state and one of the most pugnacious ideologues of the neoconservative club, bragged that it would take only  “2000 [bombing] sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity.” Last month, he wrote in Foreign Affairs his view of how the reimposition of sanctions are meant to bring Iran to its knees and do Washington’s bidding, or be toppled by a populace disgruntled by a smashed economy. Colin H. Kahl, co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation, and a former national security and defense official in the Obama administration, dismantled what he calls Pompeo’s “dangerous delusion” in a subsequent essay in Foreign Affairs.

David E. Sanger at The New York Times reports:

“We want to restore democracy there,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week, walking just to the edge of declaring that regime change is the goal. “We think the Iranian people want that same thing.”

Certainly, a truly democratic, socially liberal, non-aggressive Iranian government that puts a high value on human rights would be a welcome change from the brutal one now in charge. While Iran has some of the trappings of democracy, it’s a profoundly constrained one riven by corruption that favors the clerical elite, holds large numbers of political prisoners, engages in torture and other brutality, and has a long record of human rights abuses, one of the targets being gay people. It was obvious from the election protests in 2009 that many Iranians would like to see a different kind of government. For each one of the thousands of protesters who dared confront Iran’s pernicious religious zealots in the street, for every Neda Agha-Soltan murdered by government henchmen, there no doubt were dozens silently cheering them on from home but fearful to join the opposition. They deserve better.

As do the Saudis. Yet neither Pompeo nor Trump are making any noises about sanctioning the royal autocracy of that kingdom. It doesn’t take any imagination to figure out why.

What exactly does Pompeo mean by “restoring” democracy to Iran? Would that be the nascent democracy bumped off by the CIA and its bribed Iranian cohorts in Operation Ajax in 1953? Certainly, there was nothing approaching democracy under the 26-year royal dictatorship of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi that replaced that budding democracy. His secret police tortured and killed thousands, the Iranian parliament was neutered, political parties were outlawed, newspapers and other media were heavily censored and violators heavily punished, and an international consortium of oil companies was guaranteed half the profits from drilling concessions forcibly imposed on Iran by Britain decades earlier.

Does Pompeo mean “restoring democracy” the way neoconservative Jeane Kirkpatrick—the U.S. Ambassador to U.N at the time—meant it in the early 1980s when she praised the Argentine military dictatorship’s assistance in “restoring democracy” in Nicaragua?

As Kirkpatrick knew full well, the last time Nicaragua had had anything even approaching an actual democracy was the 1930s. Then Anastasio Somoza García was chosen by Washington to head up the country’s new army, the National Guard. Kirkpatrick knew that the Argentine generals had in the 1970s trained elite members of that National Guard under the dictatorship of Somoza’s son. The lessons taught the same methods as used in Argentina’s “Dirty War” against leftists—namely torture, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings, all of which contributed to as many as 30,000 dead. And as Kirkpatrick knew and privately applauded, the Argentine generals’ effort at restoring democracy in Nicaragua amounted to advising and training the contras on how to be effective terrorists in Operation Charly.

As Kahl points out in his Foreign Affairs essay:

Paradoxically, the more the administration’s policy “works” to cripple Iran’s economy, the more likely Tehran is to take actions that produce a military confrontation. During previous rounds of sanctions, Iran rapidly expanded its nuclear infrastructure to generate counter leverage. So far, Iran has been relatively constrained in its response to Trump’s re-imposition of sanctions. But if the costs get too high, this restraint could eventually erode. Iran may start creeping out of its nuclear obligations under the JCPOA by installing and operating more centrifuges or increasing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, all the while seeking to maintain as much international sympathy—especially from China and Russia—as possible. And this, in turn, would lead to renewed prospects of an Israeli or American military strike. […]

Pompeo concludes his article by celebrating the “disruptive boldness” of Trump’s Iran policy. It is indeed disruptive and bold—but not in a good way. The administration’s Iran strategy has put the United States in a worse position to check Tehran’s nuclear program and has done nothing to curtail Iranian adventurism in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the geopolitical collateral damage from Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA has been considerable. Leaving the deal has undermined U.S. diplomatic credibility, put enormous strains on the transatlantic alliance, encouraged other world powers to collude to design mechanisms to circumvent the U.S. financial system, and pushed China and Russia closer to Iran (while also filling Moscow’s coffers by increasing oil prices). Meanwhile, Trump’s reliance on Saudi Arabia to help contain Iran and keep oil prices in check as sanctions kick in has emboldened Riyadh to pursue a broader regional agenda (not to mention atrocities against dissidents like Jamal Khashoggi) at odds with U.S. interests and values. It all adds up to foreign policy malpractice of the first order.

Iran’s leaders are no angels, to be sure. But it’s ludicrous to blame them for being the only negative influence in the Middle East considering all the destabilization of the region resulting from the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. That destabilizing includes having, ironically, given Iran more political clout in the region.

As Carol Giacomo of the editorial board of The New York Times concluded in an essay early last month:

If Mr. Trump had stuck with the nuclear agreement, he would have had the standing to lead an effort with the five other major powers to address concerns over Iran’s military presence in Syria, its missile program, its support for militant groups like Hezbollah, its hostility toward Israel and its backing for Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Instead, he has alienated America’s closest allies and set the stage for a conflict that could easily spiral out of control.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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