American foreign policy under President Donald Trump is one of the most consistent policies in an unpredictable administration. It is strange that it has flip-flopped on almost every issue except Iran and it is escalating the situation under a plan after decertifying a nuclear deal which was a multilateral agreement. After one round of sanctions in August and a threat of the next round on November 5, the US appears to be on a covert mission to destabilize Iran and force regime change.
The US has caused the free fall of the Iranian rial and stirred street protests in the country, but most experts believe the Islamic Republic will weather the storm as it is not a new phenomenon for it. Since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian state has proved to be one of the most resilient in the region. It has survived a plethora of social, economic and political crises, including an eight-year war with its neighbour Iraq, unilateral sanctions by the US in 1979 and joined by the UN in 2006 and the EU in 2016, the 2009 Green Movement protests where hundreds of thousands questioned the legitimacy of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “The sanctions could result in the loss of one million jobs in Iran,” said Iranian Minister for Labour Ali Rabiei on July 31. He was ousted from his post on August 8, after failing to win a vote of confidence in parliament. While 33 percent of Iran’s population lives below the poverty line, research commissioned by Iran’s parliament shows that each 10 percent increase in the value of foreign currencies and the accompanying depreciation of the rial, boosts inflation by two percent in Iran. In the last four months, the value of the dollar has increased by 200 percent. If the Iranian parliament research is correct and if all other factors are constant, it would put inflation at 40 percent over the four months. According to some reports, property prices have risen by 42 percent in Tehran this spring, compared to the same period last year.
The system will not fall in Iran due to the lack of any alternative to seize and hold on to power. However, it is possible that the riots will intensify and the country would descend into chaos. This is the Trump administration’s goal, if it cannot achieve regime change, observed Shahir Shahidsaless, an Iranian-Canadian political analyst. However, the US may not want the dire consequences of destabilising Iran. If Iran becomes a failed state, a chain of failed states from Afghanistan to Lebanon will be created, which will destabilise the entire region. No force will be able keep the region – now including Iran – from becoming the home for international and regional terrorist organizations. Iran would become another refuge for organised crime, especially a major route for drug trafficking between Afghanistan and the West, as well as a center for the production of drugs. Chaos and civil war would spill over into Iran’s neighbours, including Iraq, and would disrupt them. Once Iran and Iraq get strangled in domestic unrest and their oil exports are disrupted, the price of oil would skyrocket unpredictably for a lengthy period, he fears.
The sanctions will hurt the common people the most in Iran. Under Obama’s sanctions, the percentage of Iranian families living in poverty almost doubled, millions were left without access to essential medical treatment, and child marriage – according to one measure – rose by a fifth, as struggling families pulled their girls out of school and married them off to alleviate extreme financial hardship. Sanctions that seem unrelated to innocent civilians often have unforeseen consequences, like the almost 2,000 Iranians who have died in plane crashes since the country’s isolation from the international community began to limit access to spare parts. It is clear that the sanctions are more about US interests than they are about improving the lives of ordinary Iranians. While the US is alienating the Iranian people – who will bear the brunt of the widespread hardship, unrest, and economic turmoil – all the signs are that the regime will survive. Quite apart from the question of whether Iran actually did anything in violation of the nuclear deal that would justify this new round of sanctions, these measures are likely to increase, not weaken, state control if the recent history of Obama-era sanctions are anything to go by. They drove out legitimate middle-class businesses and helped the state monopolise the economy; exactly the opposite of what the US wants. Sanctions cannot be justified if it’s already apparent that they won’t work, a Guardian report said.
The crisis in Iran will hurt the US itself. Energy economist James Hamilton, reviewing four events that led to oil supply disruptions, including the first Gulf War, the 1980 Iran-Iraq War, the 1978 Iranian Revolution, and the 1973 OPEC embargo, determined from his research that each of the events was followed by a deep and long recession in the United States. He concluded that at their peak disruptions, the events took out 4-7 percent of net world production and were associated with oil price increases of 25-70 percent. The US government is acting like a spoilt brat poking a hornets’ nest with a stick. When the hornets start coming out, it is not going to be fun for anyone, he observed.
According to Dr. Mohammadbagher Forough, Assistant Professor of International Relations, Leiden University, The Netherlands, there have been a lot of conversations, discussions and heated debate in Iran between various factions about corruption, electricity outages especially during the heat of the summer. “There has been a water shortage in various parts of the country, again especially intensified by the summer heat. So, the environmental factor plays a major role. The economy is not doing well. The currency has been devalued by around 50 percent. The main problem the Iranian government faces is its own internal problems.”
The US has created the Iran Action Group to address all manifestations of the “Iranian threat.” The goal is to coordinate all policy efforts of the Trump administration against Iran. Under the Obama administration, Iran braved the toughest rounds of sanctions in the last four decades when the Europeans, China and even Russia were siding with the US. Under the Trump administration, the Europeans, China and Russia are not on board because the Americans have withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal unilaterally. There is no chance for the Americans to succeed in its plan of regime change in Iran. In the situation, the US should offer talks to resolve issues with Iran, instead of creating problems for the common people of the Islamic Republic, the region and itself. It will also be interesting to see how Iran responds to it and believes in Trump’s word, if it signs another nuclear agreement with the US.