Recent nationwide demonstrations in Iran—over the state of the economy, Tehran’s regional activities, corruption, and general disenchantment with the Islamic government—are strengthening the Trump administration’s hopes. But attempts to catalyze religious or ethnic minority protests as a means to transform the Islamic Republic have been a failed US policy for almost as long as the theocracy has existed. This time will be no different. History demonstrates ethnic and religious minorities will neither spur nor lead regime change.
But the stickers on the Badr militamen’s outdated equipment immediately gave their origins away: “Property of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” the major branch of the Iranian armed forces. Their history as a veritable Iraqi unit of the IRGC during the war between the two countries was known to all Iraqis.
Earlier this year, Pompeo enumerated a list of demands on Iran so sweeping that they seem designed—like the demands that Austria-Hungary placed on Serbia in 1914—to be rejected. Sixty-five years ago this month occurred the one instance in which the United States was involved in a change of regime in Iran: the ouster in August 1953 of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.
The sanctions the administration is re-imposing in two waves (August and November) on Iran are effectively the same sanctions that were in place in 2013 and led to the JCPOA negotiations. Unlike 2013, the Trump administration does not have the full support of the international community and is not bolstered by several United Nations Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran to generate maximum pressure on Tehran. Instead, the US withdrawal from the JCPOA has caused an ugly split with our European allies who passed a blocking regulation preventing EU companies from complying with US sanctions on Iran and has drawn the ire of the other deal signatories, China and Russia, and key partners–such as Turkey, India, Japan, and South Korea–who went along with US sanctions in 2013.
President Donald Trump’s recent threats to block any companies still engaging with Iran from business in the US are a clear and serious incentive for foreign firms to leave Iran as soon as possible. Despite European Union (EU) efforts to protect companies and neutralize US threats, major European businesses have already announced their departures.
The United States and its Persian Gulf Arab allies may be able to provide India with enough crude to offset any reduction in India’s oil imports from Iran. But will Delhi give in to the Trump administration’s pressure to cut Iranian oil imports completely by Nov. 4, thereby endangering a long-standing relationship with Tehran that goes beyond energy?
The acquittal of the twenty-one activists seemed to confirm that part of the security apparatus isn’t fully intent on cracking down on women’s groups, and that some of their peaceful activities would be tolerated. This message was echoed by Shahindokht Mowlaverdi—a staunch advocate of women’s rights and special advisor to the president on citizens’ rights—who in a recent interview promised that the Rouhani administration was working to ease social, cultural, and political pressures. However, Mowlaverdi also warned that “the [Rouhani] government is not the only entity in charge of these sectors,” referring to the Judiciary and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who are responsible for much of the crackdowns and pressures over the years.
So what are the major factors working against the Iranian government?
The Trump administration, unlike its predecessor, claims to oppose Iran’s domination of what is left of the Syrian state. Unlike his predecessor, US President Donald Trump did not hesitate to strike militarily when Bashar al-Assad, supported by Iran and Russia, twice assaulted defenseless civilians with sarin nerve agent. When Russian “military contractors” sought, in February of this year, to cross the Euphrates River to attack American-held positions, there was no ignominious retreat. On the contrary, the Kremlin learned a hard lesson about testing American resolve east of the Euphrates de-confliction line. Iranian-led Shia militias and regime military units have been similarly educated.
The US and Iran should negotiate, but meaningful steps need to be taken in advance and the objective must be to solve all major bilateral issues.