(TMU Op-Ed) — There has been a lot of media attention on Iran lately and most of that attention has focused on the recent activities in the Gulf, which have almost become a foreign policy scandal of sorts. For example, after Iran reportedly shot down a U.S. drone that was either traveling in Iranian airspace or very close to it, the Trump administration allegedly drew up a plan to strike Iran in response, only to have Trump pull the plug on the very last minute. By all accounts, this is a somewhat bogus notion, but we still cannot rule it out as a possibility.
Had the exchange of missiles taken place, it would have been one of the more newsworthy events of an already daily newsworthy administration run by Trump himself. And as the weeks go by, developments in the region continue to play out with no immediate end or means of diffusion or de-escalation currently in sight.
However, the real scandal of this whole crisis that we should be focused on, is the imposition of sanctions against Iran in contravention of the Iranian nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which has continued to escalate ever since Trump formally reneged on the JCPOA last year. It should be a scandal not just because Iran was being certified as compliant with the terms of the JCPOA on a regular basis, but also because the aim of the sanctions is to strangle Iran’s government into collapsing.
This particular predicament was summarized brilliantly in a recent article in the Atlantic:
“This summer, tankers are exploding, disappearing, or getting seized near the Gulf; drones are getting destroyed in tit-for-tat attacks; and a war of words and tweets is erupting between Donald Trump and Iran’s supreme leader. That’s where all the drama is, but in fact most of America’s punitive actions against Iran are taking place in a world not physical but financial. Sanctions are the key tool the United States uses against what it sees as the Islamic Republic’s provocative behavior—especially for the past three presidential administrations running, and never more so than in this one.”
In the latter part of last year, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered a preliminary ruling in proceedings brought before it by Iran under the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights whereby the ICJ essentially told the U.S. to lift sanctions on Iran which were linked to humanitarian goods and civil aviation. In its statement, the ICJ said that:
“The Court further considers that restrictions on the importation and purchase of goods required for humanitarian needs, such as foodstuffs and medicines, including life-saving medicines, treatment for chronic disease or preventive care, and medical equipment, may have a serious detrimental impact on the health and lives of individuals on the territory of Iran.”
The U.S. responded by announcing it would pull out of the Treaty of Amity and the rest of the world barely blinked, even though it was becoming painfully obvious that Iranians were being killed by U.S. foreign policy simply due to being unable to receive basic medicines. Even now, the fact that the U.S. breached the JCPOA first and hit Iran as hard as it could with sanctions, even in light of a legally binding ICJ decision, barely passes a mention.
According to most reports, Iranian oil exports are down to 200,000 barrels a month, and this is likely to decrease further as the U.S. treasury finds new and more creative ways of attempting to cripple Iran’s economy. Just this week, the U.S. slapped sanctions on a major Chinese company for buying Iranian oil, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo openly acknowledged were “part of our maximum pressure campaign” on Iran.
And guess what—the maximum pressure is eventually going to work. In order to keep its economy afloat, most analysts say Iran needs to be exporting, at the very minimum, 600,000 barrels a month. As the U.S. continues to hit anyone and everyone left who may be even daring to import Iranian oil, Iran’s government may very well be looking at liquidation.
Let’s be honest, cryptocurrencies are not going to save Iran’s economy. The only real shot Iran has of not collapsing, is a successful mechanism set up by the E.U. which would help Iran bypass U.S. sanctions. Given the U.K. is helping to seize Iranian ships carrying oil with little to no comment from the E.U. at all—it would be foolish to put much hope in their hands to help diffuse this crisis and prevent yet another Middle Eastern country from toppling over and plunging into chaos.
The real scandal of the so-called “Iran crisis” is not that Trump may one day kill Iranians (or that Iranians may respond and kill U.S. or U.K. personnel)—it is that Trump is already killing more Iranians than we could hope to monitor through its draconian sanctions regime. Even an Israeli minister has openly bragged about how many Iranians Israel has killed in recent times—a perverse statement to which the rest of the world has shrugged its shoulders.
Sanctions are always a precursor to overt war. While the physical war has not begun for the ordinary American, Iran is already at war and under economic attack from the U.S. and its close allies, facing no less than a complete collapse of its economy. Diffusing and de-escalating the crisis taking place in the Strait of Hormuz should be a priority, of course, but would not even be necessary if we tackled the root cause of the current situation, which continues to spiral out of control quietly behind the scenes.