US Crippling Sanctions Against Iran: A New Wave of Anti-Americanism (Part 1)

Sixty years it engineered a coup in Iran, the Central Intelligence Agency has released new documents that acknowledge its leading role in the August 19, 1953 coup that overthrew the democratically-elected government of Iran's Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh. The coup changed the nature of the relations between the Iranian people and the United States, and gave rise to several generations of Iranian intellectuals that were driven to an anti-American discourse. Its natural outcome was the February 1979 revolution and the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November of that year. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were cutoff, and a wall of distrust between them grew taller by the day. Although former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright expressed regrets for the U.S. role in the coup in April 2000; Bill Clinton said in his memoirs (on p. 922), "I had also said that the United States was wrong to support the overthrow of an elected government in Iran in the 1950s," and President Barack Obama dedicated a part of his June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo to the episode, diplomatic relations between U.S. and Iran are still nonexistent, and the two governments continue to express enmity toward one another.

Iran is not comparable to other countries of the Middle East and North Africa. It possesses all the social prerequisites for transition to democracy. Iranian democrats will handily win any fair and democratic elections. A nation with 4.5 million university students the majority of whom are female, one with influential intellectuals and a feminist movement, and one that is adjusting to modern times by translating the works of Western thinkers and philosophers, particularly the liberal ones, is not anti-West and anti-America. A great majority of the Iranian people support negotiations with the U.S. and want good relations with America. Re-establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries is in the national interests of both, helps Iran's transition to a thriving democracy that will be a model for the Middle East, and is boost to the cause of respect for and improvement of human rights in Iran. Unfortunately though, the U.S. government is creating a strong wave of anti-American sentiments in Iran. How? In this article and its sequel I explain how the United States is accomplishing this.

The Economic Sanctions

During the 2012 presidential campaign the president's adviser Michelle Flournoy boasted, "If you look at the record of the president, he has led the international community in imposing the most crippling sanctions ever imposed on any country" on Iran. Last month Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said, "The sanctions applied against Iran are the most severe sanctions in world history."

The Consequences of the Harshest Sanctions in History

In imposing sanctions on Iran the goal of the Congress and the Senate is not necessarily forcing Iran to retreat from its nuclear positions, but letting the Iranian people to go hungry so that they would revolt against their regime. In October 2011 Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) said, "It is okay to take food from the mouth of innocent Iranians."

U.S. allies seem to think similarly. Calling Iran's nuclear program "mad" Britain's Defense Secretary Phillip Hammond said in October 2012, "The only thing that is likely to budge the [Iranian] regime is if they see or sense an existential threat. If the level of economic pressure starts to translate into potentially regime-threatening disruption and dissent on the streets of Tehran, then they may change course," adding, "We can definitely make the pain much greater."

Thus, the sanctions that are supposedly "smart," are collectively punishing the Iranian people "smartly." To see this, consider just the following five occasions in which U.S. officials talk about the sanctions:

In her interview with BBC's Persian program on October 26, 2011, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "I am aware that, from time to time, certain sanctions can be difficult for totally innocent people going about their daily lives... I think it [the sanctions] has put a lot of pressure on the regime, which is the first step toward, perhaps, getting some within the regime to look at each other and say, 'Hey, come on. Why are we doing this to ourselves and to our people? Our economy is -- wasn't terrific to begin with, and now it is under greater stress. Why do we want to continue down a path that we know is not going to bring the kind of support for our own development, our own economic future?'" Clinton acknowledged the difficulties that the sanctions had created at a time when the U.S. most crippling sanctions had not even started.

On October 1, 2012, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, "the Iranian people should be willing to suffer now for a better future." Who is Mr. Graham to make decision for the Iranian people's future?

In his Nowruz message to the Iranian People on March 21, 2013, on the occasion of the new Iranian year, the president said, "The people of Iran have paid a high and unnecessary price because of your leaders' unwillingness to address this issue."

Testifying before the Senate on April 18, 2013, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, said that the harsh sanctions levied upon Iran have had no effect on the decision-making process of the Iranian leadership, yet have produced considerable damage to the Iranian economy and resulted in increased "inflation, unemployment, [and the] unavailability of commodities" for the Iranian people. Responding to Maine Senator Angus King, who asked about the impact sanctions have on the Iranian government, Clapper explained that the intent of sanctions is to spark dissent and unrest in the Iranian population, and that the Iranian regime is worried about them. Thus, not only did Clapper admit the harsh effect of the sanctions on the Iranian people, but also made it clear that their goal is regime change, not achieving a diplomatic resolution of the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. It is immaterial if the sanctions victim the Iranian people.

It is often claimed that export of medicine to Iran has not fallen under the sanction regime; this is false. All of Iranian banks and financial institutions have been sanctioned and cannot transfer abroad foreign currencies to pay for the imported medicines. Moreover, medical equipment and devices were also sanctioned, and only after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon protested it, the Treasury Department relaxed the sanctions somewhat. David Cohen, the Treasury Department's under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said that he had met with executives of many pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies and explained to them the regulations for exports to Iran.

I will describe in Part II a national anti-sanction movement in Iran, spearheaded by non-governmental organizations, economists, and even political prisoners.