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If You Wish the Iranian People Well, Stop Attacking Them with Sanctions
No one who sympathizes with the protesters’ desire for greater freedom can support existing sanctions, much less advocate for more of them.
Walter Russell Mead jumps at the chance to push for regime change:
But using all the diplomatic and economic tools at America’s disposal to help the Iranian people’s fight for freedom is both the right thing to do and the best way to advance U.S. interests at a critical time.
The time for action is now.
The best thing that the U.S. can do for the Iranian people is to take its boot off their necks by lifting as many broad sanctions on their economy as possible as quickly as possible. That is the only useful “economic tool” that the U.S. has to offer in this case, and we know in advance that this is not what Mead is talking about. Right on cue, he proposes pursuing “snapback” sanctions at the U.N. to inflict even more damage on ordinary Iranians in the name of “helping” them. Despite ample evidence that broad sanctions have immiserated Iranians and empowered regime hardliners, Mead’s answer is to intensify the economic war that has already caused so much needless suffering. The Iranian people have endured quite enough of this kind of “assistance,” and they certainly don’t need a heavier burden laid upon them by outsiders. Calling for more intense sanctions after the failure of more than four years of “maximum pressure” is not much better than sadism under the circumstances.
Iranian protesters have been using the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom,” and broad sanctions have been an attack on each one of these. Iranian women have borne the brunt of the economic war. They are the ones that have been more likely to lose jobs, and they are among those ones that have been disproportionately harmed by the economic pressures caused by sanctions. Financial sanctions have severely impeded the importing of medicines and raw materials needed to produce medicines domestically, and sick and vulnerable Iranians have been the ones to suffer and in some cases die as a result. Iran under sanctions has also become a more authoritarian and oppressed country. No one who sympathizes with the protesters’ desire for greater freedom can support existing sanctions, much less advocate for more of them.
Mead continues, “Assuring the Iranian people that normal economic relations would quickly follow the establishment of a law-abiding government in Tehran would encourage regime opponents.” Why would most Iranians believe any assurances from a government that reneged on its past commitments to theirs? Why would any new Iranian government be able to trust in promises of sanctions relief in the future? Regardless, these promises are pie-in-the-sky since it is extremely unlikely that the current system will be brought down by these protests. Making sanctions relief contingent on regime change isn’t going to hasten that change, but it would make it impossible to negotiate anything with the current system for as long as it remains in power. That is, of course, exactly how hardliners in the U.S. like things to be.
The rest of Mead’s column is fantasizing of the kind that we heard a lot of in 2002-03 about the supposed wonderful domino effects that would follow from regime change in Baghdad. It is silly raving of an ideologue rather than any sort of considered analysis of what would be likely to happen if the current clerical leadership in Iran were toppled. Assuming that a future Iranian government would be significantly less authoritarian than the one currently in power is not much more than wishful thinking. Expecting its foreign policy to conform neatly to the preferences of Washington, Tel Aviv, and Riyadh is ridiculous.
An Iranian security establishment that has built longstanding ties with proxies and allies around the region is not likely to vanish overnight, and the IRGC is unlikely to accept a sharply reduced role in the state and the economy. Dislodging these forces from power would be a prolonged and bloody affair that would convulse Iran and its neighbors for many years. The resulting dislocation and instability would be a nightmare for the region and for any country as deeply enmeshed in its affairs as ours has been. No doubt there are fanatics in the U.S. and elsewhere that would delight in the ensuing chaos, but it would only further contribute to regional and global instability while doing nothing to make the United States more secure. Anyone that is still preaching sanctions and regime change in the Middle East as solutions automatically discredits himself and proves that he has learned nothing from the last twenty years.