On 41st Anniversary, has Trump’s belligerence strengthened the Iranian government?

On 41st Anniversary, has Trump’s belligerence strengthened the Iranian government?

By Farhang Jahanpour

February 12, 2020

Oxford, UK (Special to Informed Comment) – On February 11, 2020, the
Islamic Republic of Iran marks the 41st anniversary of the victory of
the Islamic Revolution. Thus, it has defied the Trump administration’s
prediction of its demise for two years beyond its allotted time.

In his speech at a conference of the MEK (Mojahedin-e Khalq or
People’s Jihadis) in 2017, for which he received huge fees, the former
National Security Advisor John Bolton said: “The outcome of the
president’s policy review should be to determine that the Ayatollah
Khomeini’s 1979 revolution will not last until its fortieth birthday…and
that is why before 2019 we here will celebrate in Tehran.”[1]

In 2018 President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani also predicted: “Freedom is right around the corner … next year I want to have this convention in Tehran.”[2]

This article was originally published at
Juan Cole’s “Informed Comment” on February 11, 2020

The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his neocon allies have tried
very hard to fulfill those wishes and to bring about regime change in
Iran before its 40th anniversary. To this end, they have
implemented a policy of “maximum pressure” and have imposed
unprecedented illegal sanctions in violation of the unanimously approved
U.N. National Security Council Resolution 2231 that lifted all the
earlier sanctions on Iran as part of the nuclear deal (Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA).

The nuclear deal was reached between Iran and the United States, and
all other permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany (5+1).
The deal was also unanimously endorsed by the European Union

After President Trump violated the nuclear deal (there is no clause
in it allowing one side to withdraw unilaterally) on 18 May 2018, Iran
continued to abide by it for a whole year. The International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA), which is in charge of supervising the deal, in 15
separate quarterly reports – five of them since President Trump came to
power – has confirmed that Iran had faithfully carried out all her
obligations under the deal. As late as last week, the IAEA stated that
there had been no violations of the nuclear deal.[3]

A year after US withdrawal from the deal when Iran continued to be
deprived of the economic benefits to which she was entitled, the Iranian
president announced that Iran would take incremental steps to reduce
her obligations under the deal, unless other parties fulfilled their
commitments. Although all the steps that Iran has taken so far have been
in keeping with the JCPOA, under the IAEA supervision and are
reversible, they have been portrayed by US officials as major violations
of the deal, and they have continued to increase the sanctions on Iran.

The other signatories to the deal criticised President Trump for his
violation of the deal and promised to remain faithful to it. The EU3
(the United Kingdom, France and Germany) tried very hard to keep the
deal alive by devising the INSTEX mechanism to facilitate trade with

However, in view of US pressure and the dominant role that the US
dollar plays as an international currency, all their efforts have proved
futile. US sanctions amount to a virtual siege or blockade, which is an
act of war. Not only have they drastically cut Iran’s oil exports which
form a large part of the government budget, they have also prevented
Iranian banks and industries engaging in normal business with the rest
of the world.

This is on top of the United States blocking Iranian nationals from
visiting the United States, and even detaining many Iranian US residents
or Green Card holders for hours of questioning at the borders before
readmitting them to the United States.

Contrary to the claims of US officials, the sanctions have also
blocked the sale of food and medicine to Iran, despite the fact that
there is no explicit restriction against them. However, due to the
difficulty of banking transactions, in practice, Iranians cannot even
import much-needed medicine.

Recently, the Swiss government suggested a new package to sell some
$2.3 million worth of medicines to Iran. Even if this plan is
implemented it is a drop in the ocean.[5] Before, the imposition of the sanctions, Iran imported more than $3.5 billion worth of medicines a year.

If there were any doubts about President Trump’s real motivation for
violating the nuclear deal with all its grave consequences, his remarks
at the ceremony unveiling the so-called “Deal of the Century” made his
motives absolutely clear. Trump did not violate a truly remarkable
non-proliferation agreement that could have acted as a model for other
similar deals because it was in any way defective or did not prevent
Iran from ever manufacturing a nuclear bomb. The main aim was to help
his friend Benjamin Netanyahu in his vendetta against Iran.

When the nuclear deal was being negotiated under President Obama,
Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress to kill the main foreign
policy initiative of a sitting president, and he received dozens of
standing ovations for this act of discourtesy. He did not get his way
then, but as the Trump administration came to power, surrounded by
strong supporters of Israel, including many Christian Zionists,
Netanyahu found a unique opportunity to achieve his goal.

Standing next to Netanyahu at that ceremony, Trump said: “As everyone
knows, I have done a lot for Israel: moving the United States Embassy
to Jerusalem; recognizing — (applause) –- recognizing the Golan Heights —
(applause) — and, frankly, perhaps most importantly, getting out of the
terrible Iran nuclear deal.”[6] So, it is clear what was the real reason behind violating the nuclear deal.

The US’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the policy of “maximum
pressure” on Iran has had a number of other grave consequences. It has
put Iran and the United States on a path to war. In May 2019, there were
attacks on four ships in the Indian Ocean, and the US said that it was
highly likely that Iran was behind those attacks.

When, as directed by former National Security Advisor John Bolton,
British marines boarded and stopped an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar for
allegedly transporting oil to Syria, Iranian revolutionary guards
seized the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero for alleged violations
near the Strait of Hormuz. Both tankers were subsequently released with
their cargoes intact.

On June 19, 2019 Iran shot down an advanced US military drone,
claiming that it was flying over Iranian territory, and provided the
debris of the drone in its waters to prove the point. On 14 September
2019, two major Saudi oil facilities were attacked by 25 drones and
cruise missiles, cutting Saudi output by half. The Houthis claimed
responsibility for those attacks, but the United States again pointed
the finger at Iran.

However, the most serious incidents took place in December 2019 and
January 2020. After a US contractor was killed in missile attacks at a
US base in Iraq, US officials blamed Kata’ib Hezbollah, which they
described as “Iran-backed militia”, for the attack. In retaliation for
that killing, US forces attacked three of Kata’ib bases, killing dozens
and wounding dozens more. Al-Arabia has put the number of those killed
at the bases at 63.[7]

Those killings gave rise to massive protests in Baghdad, including an
attack on the US Embassy, which was used as an excuse to assassinate
the commander of the IRGC Quds Force, General Qasem Soleimani, and the
deputy leader of the Kata’ib Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and a few other
Iraqi officials who were with them.

Millions of Iraqis and Iranians took part in the funerals of those
two generals. In retaliation for Soleimani’s assassination, Iran fired
two dozen missiles at two US bases in Iraq. At first, President Trump
tweeted that all was well, and no one had been injured. However,
gradually it transpired that a number of forces in the bases had
suffered traumatic brain injuries. At first, the number was put at 11,
then 34, 54, 64, but according to the latest Reuters report more than
100 US troops suffered brain injuries.[8]

Iraqi officials have recently stated that the initial attack on the
US base that killed one contractor had been carried out by ISIS, not by
Kata’ib forces.[9]
So, it seems that the world was brought to the brink of a major war on
the basis of either a deliberate lie or a misunderstanding.

It is clear that Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure”, involving
crippling economic sanctions and even threats of war has not brought the
Iranian government to its knees. On the contrary, it has forced Iran
into the position it held prior to signing the JCPOA. Meanwhile, many
Majles deputies have demanded that the government should withdraw from
the NPT. That will be a very provocative move that will make the
situation even worse than it is at present.

But perhaps the worst outcome of Trump’s policy towards Iran has been
to undermine the position of the moderates and reformers in the Iranian
government and strengthen and embolden the hardliners. On 21 February,
Iranians go to the polls to elect a new Parliament or Majles. The
current Majles is dominated by moderates with 120 Reformist deputies, 86
hardliners or Principlists, 10 associated Principlists, 66
independents, and five from religious minorities.

However, the hard-line Guardian Council has disqualified a large
number of applicants for election, including 90 of the current
290-strong parliamentarians. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has
criticised the disqualifications, saying: “We cannot simply announce
that 1,700 candidates have been approved and ignore the question of how
many political groups those people represent. That’s not what an
election is about.”[10] He has called on the current parliament to pass legislation limiting the vetting powers of the Guardian Council.

This issue has opened up a major rift between moderates and
hardliners. The West should have supported the more moderate elements
who work for reconciliation with the West and more political freedoms at
home. Repressive regimes can be changed either through foreign-led
military force, and we have seen the consequences of such violent
actions in Iraq and Libya; or through a gradual but meaningful change
from within. Iranians have shown that they are in favour of peaceful
change, but the current policies of the Trump administration have made
this almost impossible.

The current impasse in Iran will either result in a much more
hard-line government, similar to the one led by President Mahmud
Ahmadinezhad, or even in a military coup led by the IRGC. Either
scenario will push back the possibility of democratization in Iran by
many years, and might even lead to a devastating war. The neocons who
have been pushing Trump to pursue these policies have not served him,
the United States or Iran well.

The only alternative is for the United States to return to the nuclear deal, lift the sanctions and then try to reach a more comprehensive agreement with the Iranian government. The other alternative is war.

If you think this analysis gave you both knowledge and perspective…

Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan. A British national of Iranian origins, he is a part-time tutor in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford. Follow him on Twitter at @FJShirazi
Professor Jahanpour is also a TFF Associates since many years back and a former TFF Board member.
Here his CV on TFF.


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfmLyrQ7E24]

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ouaJ16Lyds

[3] https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-usa-iaea-iran/u-n-watchdog-sees-no-new-iranian-violations-of-nuclear-deal-idUKKBN1ZZ2SU

[4] https://www.dw.com/en/instex-europe-sets-up-transactions-channel-with-iran/a-47303580

[5] https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-02-03/there-s-hope-for-humanitarian-trade-with-iran

[6] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-prime-minister-netanyahu-state-israel-joint-statements/

[7] https://www.zeitoons.com/71386

[8] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-pentagon-tbi-exclusive-idUSKBN2041ZK

[9] https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/02/07/bombshell-iraqi-officials-say-isis-not-iran-likely-behind-rocket-attack-trump-used?cd-origin=rss&utm_term=AO&utm_campaign=Daily%20Newsletter&utm_content=email&utm_source=Daily%20Newsletter&utm_medium=Email

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/09/purge-of-reformists-in-iran-election-could-doom-nuclear-deal-say-diplomats

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