The Skeptics

Crisis Alert: Iran's Population Is under Duress, and America Isn't Helping

The administration’s hard-line on Iran has also been counterproductive. In June, it was reported that Trump’s CIA director, Mike Pompeo, was setting up a new mission center with the goal of “turning up the heat on Iran,” a move which for Iranians conjures unpleasant memories of prior covert interventions. Meanwhile, Trump’s wavering on the Iran nuclear deal has increased uncertainty, slowing investment into Iran.

Indeed, one of the reasons for today’s protests is that the Iranian population has not yet seen the promised benefits of the 2015 nuclear deal. It is certainly true that the Rouhani government oversold the potential economic benefits of the deal for Iran’s moribund economy, but Trump’s promise to rip it up has worsened prospects for the Iranian economy.

Worse, if the president withdraws from the deal in mid-January by allowing sanctions waivers to expire, then he will weaken the protesters and strengthen Iranian hardliners, who have always been able to use the idea of “external enemies” to suppress domestic dissent.

None of this implies that the United States should not support the Iranian people in their quest to make their government more representative and more accountable. But the Trump administration’s self-centered approach to the crisis—assuming that protests are pro-American, or that the United States has a role to play as a savior—risks undermining the protesters and worsening the odds for reform.

For change to come to Iran, it must come from the Iranian people, not from the United States. The Trump administration and its supporters would do well to remember that.

Emma Ashford is a research fellow in defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Image: U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump participate in a session on reforming the United Nations at UN Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque