On Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded to protests by saying that the United States is trying to start an economic war, citing President Donald Trump's decision to leave the 2015 Nuclear Deal.
The Nuclear Deal is an agreement between the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, Germany, and Iran that limits the nuclear activities Iran can undertake. Under the agreement, countries can send inspectors to make sure Iran is keeping up its end of the bargain, and in return, the other world powers in the accord keep their sanctions lifted to allow Iran to sell oil and access previously frozen assets.
Iran's economy grew by 12.5% the year after the deal was struck, but in the following years, growth predictions proved to be overestimated. That being said, Iran was beginning to bounce back after a long period of difficult sanctions.
Cue Trump's election. The now-president vehemently disagreed with the deal and had threatened on the campaign trail to back out of it if elected. Even months before it was finalized in 2015, he tweeted, "The Iran nuclear deal is a terrible one for the United States and the world. It does nothing but make Iran rich and will lead to catastrophe(.)"
After spending over a year teetering between leaving and staying, Trump finally pulled out of the agreement on May 8, 2018.
Now, to say that Iran's current economic turmoil is all because of what the U.S. decided on May 8 would be unfair, but to say it hasn’t escalated greatly as a result of the decision would be a lie. Economic protests started earlier this year in Iran, and since Monday, protests have appeared all over the country.
These aren't just any protests, though; protesters are setting fire to dumpsters, breaking windows, and going on strike from their marketplace jobs. The state has responded by sending riot police and arresting citizens and protest leaders.
Rouhani continues to blame Trump, as he continues to attempt to push other nations into taking a harder line with Iran. On Tuesday, the administration warned allies that they would receive secondary sanctions if they continue buying oil from Iran past November 4, and as if he planned it himself, the Supreme Court decided on Tuesday that the Trump travel ban, which targets Iran, is constitutional.
It's unclear who, if anyone comes out a winner as a result of Trump’s targeting of Iran. Trying to force the country into a situation via sanctions where their nuclear ambitions cannot be developed is a strategy that has been proven to fail. Moreover, the decision to pull out of the deal traded Iran’s slow but sure move toward economic developments for a step back into a more tumultuous geopolitical time.
While the deal was far from perfect, whatever assurances it provided are now gone, with no formal plans from Trump to replace it with anything substantive.
Now the question is whether other world powers will listen to the administration's secondary sanction threats. The United States’ international bargaining power has fallen under Trump's diplomatic work, reminiscent of cheap powerplay lessons one might find between the pages of The Art of the Deal.
Even if the other countries heed his warnings and stop buying oil from the country, the potential for a gain is still low. Obviously, the hopes of the Trump administration rest on Iran being defacto denuclearized by an economic hollowing out, though as one might skeptically point to through evidence of decades of foreign policy, things in the Middle East rarely turn out to be that easy.
For Trump, though, it’s about the perception of neutralizing the Iran nuclear threat in the eyes of his supporters. Even if that makes life for the average Iranian citizen far worse.
It’s unlikely that the worst case scenario will come to fruition, given that the other world powers don’t seem determined to pull out of the Nuclear Deal. But economic stability and political stability are two different things, and there’s no telling how the citizens of Iran will continue to respond to what they perceive as increasingly turbulent times.
When Rouhani told his people on Tuesday that they would be able to make it without sanctions, he said, "Even in the worst case, I promise that the basic needs of Iranians will be provided. We have enough sugar, wheat, and cooking oil. We have enough foreign currency to inject into the market."
Imagine if the U.S. president promised basic needs in a broadcast to the country; imagine the overwhelming distress that would cause citizens.
No, Iran is not the most ethical or easy-to-support country, but the average citizen, the blameless human, shouldn't have to pay the life-altering costs of a political game aimed at a regime they likely have no substantial voice in changing.