3 signs the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran isn’t working

Under the surface, there are at least three signs that suggest, despite the draconian nature of the sanctions regime hitting the Islamic Republic, Iran may in fact be able to weather the storm (for now).

Iran’s resilient economy

Firstly, Iran’s currency regained 40 percent of its value in the past year, recovering from the all-time lows it had reached since Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the plug on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). According to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency, Iran’s central bank governor, Abdolnaser Hemmati, said the economy had grown over the past year even in the face of sanctions and the repeated threats of war. It bears mentioning that when it comes to Iran, the threat of war comes from multiple venues at multiple times in the day. If it isn’t Israel, Saudi Arabia, or the United States threatening to attack Iran, there is always the potential for the on-the-ground situations in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to result in a breakout of war which could cross over into Iran’s territory.

Despite a crippling sanctions regime which was heavily condemned by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Bloomberg noted that Iran’s economy was able to recover on the open market as Iran had taken measures to preserve foreign currency and set up a government-run foreign-exchange platform to provide the supply. The platform, known as Nima, has allowed its rate to weaken in order to encourage more companies to sell their foreign exchange, which has in turn lifted the pressure on Iran’s currency.




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This isn’t to say that all is fine and dandy on the Iranian side. Clearly, sanctions are strangling Iran and perhaps over a much longer term, Iran’s economy may not be able to cope. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Tuesday that Iran’s economy is expected to shrink by 9.5 percent this year, down from a previous estimate of a six-percent contraction.

Still, Iran has said time and time again that they would not meet or discuss anything with Trump until the sanctions are lifted. The Iranian president even reportedly had the nerve to leave French leader Emmanuel Macron hanging when the latter attempted to set up a last-minute phone call to get Hassan Rouhani and his US counterpart to speak.

When the Iranians are left with no choice but to come to the table or face an imminent collapse, we might be able to look at Trump’s maximum pressure campaign as having actually produced one of its intended effects.

There is no political will for it

The international community, including Washington’s closest Western allies, appear to be more or less unanimous on this issue. For one, Macron clearly has no time for Trump’s maximum pressure campaign. Aside from the fact it gives the French leader yet another chance to play the part of a mediator that no one ever asked for (when he mediates the protests France is suffering at home, perhaps I’ll take him seriously), France and much of the NATO establishment, including the UK, have tried and failed to convince Donald Trump to honour the JCPOA and its commitments.

There is no international will for a war with Iran, whether a cold war or hot war (economic warfare is still warfare). Russia has also called for a regional coalition to ensure security in the Persian Gulf, a call that was backed heavily by China. China, for its part, appears to be doing anything and everything in its power to maintain an economic relationship with Iran, even as sanctions continue to bite Beijing in the process.




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Pakistan’s Imran Khan was in Tehran this week to try to facilitate an Iran-Saudi dialogue – Islamabad being at one time a staunch US ally as well as an integral Saudi partner, due to a variety of geopolitical factors.

Less reported is the fact that the Iranians themselves have said countless times that they would rather work with Saudi Arabia, not fight against them. Even recently, Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, threw an overlooked spanner in the works when he stated: “Despite this long-term up and down political relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia we have been friends and I hope to be friends in future, we have no difficulty with him [Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman]… We believe that all the Muslim countries, all the neighbor countries, should have a peaceful environment between themselves… Our enemy is another country out of this area.”

I know we shouldn’t always take a politician’s statements at face value, but in all honesty, I have no reason in the world to doubt this statement.

The US’ strategy remains unclear

Perhaps the most frustrating part for commentators like myself is trying to discern the exact intentions of the Trump administration. From day one, I was warning that Trump was surrounding himself with Iran-hawks and that he himself held personal disdain for the Islamic Republic. His buddying-up with Riyadh only further confirmed his intentions towards the regional dynamics.

However, as time has gone on, one starts to wonder how likely the prospect of a US-led war with Iran will be anytime soon. For example, Trump dismissed visceral anti-Iran war hawk John Bolton as his national security advisor not long ago. If there was ever a time to go to war with Iran, it would have been under the constant violent advice of Bolton. With Bolton gone and on the list of idiots even Trump can’t stand to deal with, it is hard to know for sure how serious the threat of a hot war with Iran could really be.




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It is becoming increasingly likely that perhaps Trump’s overall fantasy in reneging on the deal and reinstating sanctions was due to his desire to scrap the Iran deal as yet another heirloom of the Obama-era and come up with a deal of his own. From a foreign-policy establishment perspective, this would make sense as the new agreement would likely contain more details and further restrictions on Iran, particularly with regard to its missile testing. As the JCPOA stands, it is pretty much silent on the issue of missile testing, which appears to be a thorn in the side of Washington’s war establishment.

Then again, it could just be that Trump hates the JCPOA because it was Obama’s baby and not his own, and he doesn’t even have anything concrete to add to it.

As Vox explained some years ago:

“Trump doesn’t hate the Iran deal for policy reasons. He’s never offered a detailed public policy case against it, and experts don’t really believe he has one. ‘I don’t think anyone actually thinks he knows anything about the particularities of this agreement,’ says Sarah Kreps, a professor at Cornell University who studies arms control agreements.”

That’s right. Unless you work at Fox News, the general consensus is that the US president hasn’t even read the deal. 

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