John Feffer Iranian society is sharply divided. The current unrest reflects the thwarted economic ambitions of a falling working class, not the thwarted political ambitions of a rising middle class. Iranians are also protesting corruption, which has long been a central feature of economic and political life in the country. Initially, it seems, the protests originated with hardliners hoping to focus anger on Rouhani. The Rouhani government banked on a big dividend coming from the 2015 nuclear deal. It needed this infusion of capital from outside because, in reality, Rouhani has rather narrow room for maneuver on economic issues. The religious establishment holds all the trump cards when it comes to governance. Rouhani needed leverage from outside the system.
The nuclear deal was supposed to reduce sanctions, expand Iranian exports and attract a new wave of foreign investment. In the wake of their defeat on the nuclear deal, hardliners in Congress were eager to apply new sanctions against Iran and reduce what little investment was flowing toward the country. Even before the latest protests broke out, the Trump administration was exploring ways of killing the Boeing aircraft deal. Trump is not interested in any kind of engagement with the Iranian government.
As protests in Iran broke out in Iran in December, Trump gleefully took to Twitter to support the people in the streets and castigate the Rouhani government. “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” Trump tweeted. “All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.’ The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The US is watching!”
For Trump, the protests vindicate his argument that the government in Tehran is illegitimate. That the protests have resulted at least in part from US policies to squeeze Iran is immaterial to Trump and his supporters in Congress.
This has been their strategy all along. “The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has said. Sanctions are not designed to extract a “better deal” from Tehran or even to dissuade it from engaging in “bad behavior” in the region. That’s a canard to make the United States appear to be playing by the rules of respecting sovereignty.The punditocracy, meanwhile, has largely come out in support of the protests, with people on both sides of the nuclear deal laying down their differences to side with the street. By all means, the Iranian government should permit freedom of assembly. It should not respond to the protests with violence.
But these protests are not the Green Movement. The current demonstrators don’t have a single, coherent program. They don’t appear to have rallied behind anything to replace the current government. They are a movement defined by opposition to the status quo. It’s not immediately clear what alternative system such protesters would support, but it’s just as likely to be something religiously populist along the lines of Ahmadinejad as anything resembling secular liberalism. Trump who cares so little about Iranians that he’s blocked them from entering the United States regardless of their affiliations. He is interested only in the larger game: scoring points against Obama and the Iranian leadership and scoring points for Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Come January 13, when Trump has another opportunity to cancel US participation in the nuclear agreement, he will likely do so in the name of the Iranian people, the very ones who have taken to the streets because Trump and others like him are determined to make sure that the agreement ultimately doesn’t provide any real economic benefits to the Iranian people. His supporters on the Right are already giving him the ammunition to gun down the deal in this way.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Trump and the Neocons Are Exploiting an Iran Protest Movement They Know Nothing About.’