The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the most powerful security and military organization in Iran, recently presented its analysis of Trump’s new strategy toward Iran as laid out in his October 13 speech de-certifying the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The article, “Containment of the Islamic Republic through non-nuclear JCPOAs,” was published in the October 23 issue of Sobhe Sadeq, the political organ of the IRGC. It suggests two theories to explain Trump’s statements.
The first claims that Trump’s statements criticizing the JCPOA merely reflected his impulsive and provocative personality.
The second theory agrees that “Trump is an agitator and is unpredictable,” but sees a wider strategy in Trump’s bellicose rhetoric that is designed to curtail Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East.
According to the article, Trump’s goal in declaring to the US Congress that the JCPOA – whose initials in Farsi are Barjam — is not in US interests is to force Iran — and obtain greater cooperation from the Europeans to sign additional Barjams aimed at containing Iran’s regional influence and missile capabilities.
The IRGC piece contends, “since those days that negotiations on the nuclear issue were ongoing until Barjam was concluded the US policy was … to create other Barjams [addressing other contentious issues between Iran and the US]. Now [Trump’s] current position is the continuation of the previous trend.”
The article then refers to a viewpoint most likely suggested by Iranian moderates, and questions the idea that Iran is simply facing “the actions of a crazy Trump.” Rather, it argues, “we are facing a new American strategy and conspiracy to confront Iran.”
“There are indications that … the US and the European troika are constructing a ‘good cop bad cop’ scenario,” the article says.
The political organ of the IRGC, which is tasked with preserving the political establishment and the ideals of the 1979 revolution, argues that while Trump is adamant that the JCPOA should be amended “to limit Iran’s nuclear program indefinitely, include some regional commitments from Iran [to stop its extra-territorial activities], and restrict its missile program,” Europeans believe that the JCPOA should not be touched. Rather, new negotiations should be conducted “on non-nuclear issues to contain Iran’s behavior.”
“In this scenario Trump appears as a bad cop and threatens with the ultimate danger that can inflict [Iran] … [and] possibly the Europeans, playing a good cop role, would support Barjam and will [in return] offer the Islamic Republic to begin talks on non-nuclear issues,” the column states. It goes on to assert that, since Trump’s speech, the Europeans have taken this exact position: “On the one hand, they appear willing to preserve Barjam and on the other express their concern over Iran’s expansionist policies in the region and its missile capabilities.”
And how do the designers of this plan intend to achieve non-nuclear Barjams?
“They will replicate the same method and mechanism that were used to finalize the nuclear Barjam … [i.e.] to convince the decision-making faction in Iran – meaning Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – to approve regional and missile Barjams,” the article says. This will be done in a peaceful way, by using political pressure – alluding to the moderate faction led by the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani – “within the power structure of the country,” the weekly argues.
The piece concludes by highlighting three topics worthy of note.
First, “The Supreme Leader allowed talks with the US … to let the flaws of the view that relies on external factors for development be revealed.” This precisely targets the view promoted by Rouhani who, during the JCPOA negotiations, argued that foreign investment is necessary to remedy Iran’s economic and even non-economic ills. “The oppressive sanctions must be removed so that investment can come and the problems of the environment, employment, industry and drinkable water are resolved,” Rouhani remarked in 2015. During the 2017 election campaign, Rouhani also promised to gain relief from non-nuclear sanctions.
Another reason that the supreme leader showed “heroic flexibility” and accepted negotiations with the US “was for the nation and the administration to acquire experience that trusting the US is fruitless and to recognize the nature of the enemy,” the article said. “What the leader saw in advance was not understandable for part of political forces who were in the revolution’s front.”
The featured article also warns those who perceive Trump’s speech as a personal view to not be naïve. Trump’s policy, it argues, must be understood as “systemic [US] behavior in confrontation with Iran.”
Third, “given the recent developments, and the view of the new US administration, it is time to put aside the theory of interaction with the outside world for solving the [country’s] economic predicaments and believe in resistance economy,” the article editorializes.
A resistance economy, sometimes also translated as a resilient economy, has been persistently suggested by Iran’s leader as boosting Iranian economic independence and is essentially centered on self-sufficiency, the promotion of domestic production and reduction of foreign imports. The idea is similar to the Import Substitution Industrialization theory that emerged in Latin America in the 1950s. While it worked in the short term, cracks appeared in the 1970s, and the program was officially dead by the 1980s. The reversal in the trend was mainly because domestic producers lost the incentive to compete with foreign competitors to reduce costs and improve the quality of their products. As such, inefficiency became prevalent and the plan collapsed.
For Iran today, such a scheme is also unrealistic. Today, economic interdependence is an inevitable reality. Developing economies that enjoy high growth and even developed nations seek to utilize their comparative advantage in foreign trade. They focus on what they can produce better or more cheaply. The idea of economic independence has long proven costly, but more importantly, unattainable.
Shahir Shahidsaless is an Iranian-Canadian political analyst and freelance journalist writing about Iranian domestic and foreign affairs, the Middle East, and the US foreign policy in the region. He is the co-author of Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace. He is a contributor to several websites with focus on the Middle East as well as the Huffington Post. He also regularly writes for BBC Persian. He tweets @SShahisaless