Editor’s Note: Jonathan Cristol is Levermore Research Fellow at Adelphi University and a Senior Fellow at Bard College’s Center for Civic Engagement. Follow him @jonathancristol. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
On Monday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington: “After the Deal: A New Iran Strategy.” Over 26 minutes, Pompeo articulated a strategy that can best be summarized as, “Do everything we say, or we will crush you.” This speech was the first clear articulation of American Iran policy since President Donald Trump effectively withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (a.k.a. “the Iran deal”) on May 12.
Now, self-proclaimed master deal maker President Trump has a new deal in mind for Iran, one that would effectively require Iran to change the very nature of its regime and reverse its core foreign policy principles – deterring the United States, supporting Shias abroad and overturning the regional order.
The new deal on the table is a dream come true for many globally important figures: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Mohammed Ali Jafari; National Security Advisor John Bolton; and the Mujahideen-e-Khalq cult.
Under this strategy, articulated by Pompeo, the US enacts a new round of crippling sanctions that will have Iran “battling to keep its economy alive.” Then Iran peacefully gives into US demands and changes the very nature of its regime.
It’s all so easy it’s a wonder no previous president thought of it.
Iran just needs to release American hostages, end its ballistic missile program, withdraw from Syria, end support for the Houthis in Yemen, stop its support for Hezbollah and all other terrorist groups and end its “threatening behavior” in the region.
Of course, these are all laudable goals. The United States and the Middle East would be much better off if Iran gave in to America’s demands. But foreign policy should be rooted in reality – not fantasy. Had the US remained in the JCPOA and built up trust with Iran over time, perhaps we could have reached agreements on other issues. But the withdrawal from JCPOA effectively nukes any chances for further agreements with Iran.
The Administration hasn’t totally forgotten about the JCPOA. Included in the American demands is that Iran agrees to a nuclear deal that seems very much like the JCPOA. In exchange, the United States will lift sanctions, restore full diplomatic relations with Iran and welcome it back into the community of nations. Hell, it worked with Moammar Gaddafi in Libya. And if you don’t believe me, just ask him…
But Pompeo’s speech was not only a list of Iran’s sins and a litany of demands directed at the Iranian regime, it was also directed at the Iranian people and the domestic situation inside Iran. Pompeo described an Iran rife with unemployment, hopeless youth and a brutal repressive dictatorship bent on suppressing a restive population with intimidation and violence. And in the most bitterly ironic part of the speech, he said that the US stands “in total solidarity” with the same Iranian people the administration has fought so hard to bar from American soil.
The reality is much more complicated than Pompeo claims. It is true that there have been protests over economic conditions, forced hijab and the money spent on Iran’s Syrian adventure. Yet the regime has an excellent track record of suppressing protests, and the US has an excellent track record of underestimating regime support.
It is unclear how Pompeo expects this new strategy to succeed. The American sanctions will only be crippling if the rest of the world goes along with them, and while the US may risk the transatlantic relationship in an attempt to force European compliance, it’s hard to see the same tactic working on Russia and China.
Pompeo is effectively calling for “self regime-change” in Iran. This will not happen. He has provided no reason why Iran would acquiesce to America’s demands. Doing so would only weaken Iran’s ability to confront the United States and would require Iran to place greater trust in Washington than did the JCPOA, which the US violated.
Pompeo has succeeded only in providing the Supreme Leader with the evidence he needs to show his people that the US really does mean Iran harm.