How This Administration Could Undermine the Protests in Iran

As Matthew Nussbaum writes, the White House is using the Iran protests in its efforts to undermine the Iranian nuclear agreement.

The White House has seized on anti-government protests rocking Iran as glittering vindication of its criticisms of the Obama administration’s approach to the leadership in Tehran.

President Donald Trump and other senior administration figures are loudly cheering the Iranian demonstrators, sensing an opportunity for both an international win and a chance to make up for what they have long declared as one of President Barack Obama’s great failures.

As an example, here is what Trump tweeted yesterday:

Vice President Pence wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he contrasted the Trump approach to Obama’s during the 2009 protests.

In the wake of the demonstrations and the regime’s brutal attempts to suppress them, President Barack Obama repeatedly failed to express America’s solidarity with the Iranian protesters. As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I recognized the lack of action for what it was: an abdication of American leadership…

Today, the Iranian people are once again rising up to demand freedom and opportunity, and under President Trump, the United States is standing with them. This time, we will not be silent…

More broadly, the president declined to certify the previous administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, which flooded the regime’s coffers with tens of billions of dollars in cash — money that it could use to repress its own people and support terrorism across the wider world.

That view is a perfect illustration of Trump’s ignorance, about which I recently wrote. What it misses is that, ever since the United States orchestrated a coup against their first democratically elected president in 1953, the Iranian people have harbored a deep mistrust of any intervention in their affairs by this country. Obama knew that the one way to undermine the protests in 2009 was for the Iranian hardliners to be able to claim that their efforts were orchestrated by the United States.

That doesn’t mean that there is nothing we can do to support the protesters.

Of course, the Trump administration is unlikely to do that since it is precisely what happened in 2009.

The one thing this White House could do that would undermine the Iranian protests would be to pull out of the nuclear weapons agreement and reimpose U.S. sanctions—which is precisely where they seem to be headed.

If this administration was actually interested in what the Iranian people thought about that agreement, they could review the report produced by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran in June 2015 just before the agreement was announced. Here are some of their key findings:

Strong support for the nuclear negotiations and hope for an agreement was unanimous and unequivocal among all of the respondents, and was held regardless of the respondent’s expectations regarding the actual benefits of an accord.

All of the individuals interviewed felt sanctions and Iran’s international isolation have profoundly hurt Iranian society, negatively affecting all spheres of economic, political, and cultural life, with especially dire consequences for the lower socioeconomic strata.

All of the respondents felt failure of the negotiations would be catastrophic for Iranian society, leading to greater economic hardship, increased repression and further loss of political and cultural freedoms, the weakening of President Rouhani and moderate forces in Iran, and an increased chance of a military confrontation.

Here is a particularly powerful quote from a journalist in Tehran who had been a political prisoner:

“Social hopelessness would increase drastically [if the agreement fell through]. People would once again lose their motivation for reforms. … The failure of the negotiations would equal the failure of moderates and the strengthening of the radical camp. … The atmosphere for cultural activities and journalism would become tremendously more difficult. … [A] continuation of sanctions would place the country in a defensive mode … [and] the domestic security organs would increasingly pressure the media and journalists in order to silence any voices of dissent.”

The truth is that neither Donald Trump nor Mike Pence care a whit about the people of Iran. If they had concerns about human rights in the Middle East, they would not remain silent about the abuses perpetuated in countries like Saudi Arabia.

Trump is primarily motivated by his obsession with undermining the achievements of his predecessor, while Pence joins other Republican hawks in their desire for war with Iran as a way to produce regime change. In other words, it is all about power games by men committed to dominance over Iran. The people of that country are merely pawns in this game.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .