Trump Must Collapse Iranian Regime by Continuing ‘Maximum Pressure’

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Photo: File: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Many experts and government officials have argued that the U.S. (and its allies) should renegotiate a stronger Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with the Islamist regime in Iran. They often make the argument that — as President John F. Kennedy once memorably said — we should “never fear to negotiate.”

I am not sure I agree with this argument.

Dialogue is just one tool of statecraft. For that reason, it should never be categorically excluded. However, in every situation, there must be an evaluation of the context, to see if it would be a positive or a negative at this moment.

Is the U.S. negotiating from a position of strength or weakness? Is the opponent both willing and able to really compromise? Are there any downsides to negotiating?

Let’s examine these three questions as they currently relate to Iran and the JCPOA.

There is no question that today, the U.S. is acting from a position of strength.

After removing the U.S. from the JCPOA, the Trump Administration has re-imposed sanctions — and imposed new sanctions — on Iran. The U.S. has placed sanctions on Iran’s petrochemicals, such as ammonia, methanol and urea, and oil, shipping, bankinggold and other precious metals, such as steel, iron, aluminum and copper.

As a result of this “maximum pressure,” Iran’s economy has slipped into recession. Inflation has gone up to 32% and unemployment is over 12%. 70% of Iranian factories, workshops and mines have been forced to shut down or have gone bankrupt. The IMF has reported that Iran’s economy shrunk by 3.9% in 2018, and has predicted that the Iranian economy will shrink by 6% in 2019.

Because of all of this economic pressure, many Iranians have taken to the streets to protest the Iranian government’s mismanagement of the economy, its corruption, and its decision to send much of the money it earned from the Iran deal to terror groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and Yemen.

At demonstrations, some Iranian civilian protestors have chanted “Death to Palestine” and “Leave Syria, think of us,” according to independent videos showing the protests.

The U.S. also has developed a credible military threat against the Iranian regime.

The U.S. has a sizable military force in the region, and recently responded to the Iranian and Iranian proxy threats and/or actual violence by sending another 2,500 troops to the Middle East, and a new carrier battle group.

Perhaps more importantly, President Trump has shown he is not afraid to use force against a rogue regime. Of crucial importance was Trump’s decision to bomb the Assad regime in Syria for their use of chemical weapons. As many should remember, President Obama initially drew that red line in Syria, but then he backed down from enforcing it. This made the U.S. look weak throughout the region.

Unfortunately, the Iranian regime is very unlikely to really compromise on its drive to develop nuclear weapons. Certainly, the culture of the Iranian regime theocrats, and that of Iranians themselves, does not favor compromise. As Bernard Lewis has written, the Iranian regime is comprised of “a group of extreme fanatical Muslims who believe that their messianic times have arrived… with these people in Iran, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent factor, but rather an inducement. They feel that they can hasten the final messianic process.”

And, as Harold Rhode has written, “In Iran, compromise is seen as a sign of submission and weakness. Compromise actually brings shame on those (and on the families of those) who concede.”

Further, there is a logic to Iran producing nuclear weapons.

The Iranian regime realizes that if it develops nuclear weapons, the regime will be unassailable. The people of Iran won’t be able to revolt and remove them. And no nation, whether it be the U.S., Israel, or Saudi Arabia, will be able to attack them without risking nuclear annihilation. The Iranian regimes knows this, as it has seen and learned from the contrasting examples of the communist regime in North Korea, and the Qaddafi regime in Libya.

And finally, as Michael Rubin has laid out in his book, “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes,” the Iranian regime has had a long history of rebuffing U.S. and European attempts at diplomacy, or fooling the diplomats with illusionary agreements and vague promises, including with the JCPOA. There is a reason that Iranians are well known for their haggling prowess and the bazaar. It is extremely unlikely that this time, under President Trump, it will be any different.

There is also a huge risk to engaging with the Iranian regime diplomatically at this point in time. Olli Heinonen, the former deputy head of the UN’s atomic watchdog — the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — has said that despite assertions to the contrary by the current leadership of the IAEA, Tehran has not been adhering to the 2015 nuclear deal; Iran is actually weaponizing uranium enrichment without making a weapon, and could amass within six to eight months the amount of enriched uranium needed to produce nuclear weapons, “if they put in their maximum effort.”

Presumably, Iran would continue this development during any period of negotiations. Even worse, new negotiations between the U.S. and Iran would probably result in at least a partial suspension of sanctions. This would give the Iranian regime even more money to spend on its development of nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, at this point in time, negotiations with the Iranian regime are extremely unlikely to be successful. Negotiating with them would simply give the regime more time to develop nuclear weapons. Instead, I would advise the Trump administration to continue its “maximum pressure” strategy, and to try to collapse the Iranian regime. The U.S. should also fund some of the anti-regime Iranian groups. Aside from military action, that is probably the only way to prevent the radical Iranian regime from eventually building, and using, a nuclear weapon.

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