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May 18, 2023

Panel Recap: The U.S. and Iran After 5 Years of “Maximum Pressure”: Is There Still a Path to Meaningful Change?

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The U.S. and Iran After Five Years of ‘Maximum Pressure’: Is There Still a Path to Meaningful Change?

“Women (in Iran) have not only gained autonomy of their bodies, but they have also fundamentally challenged the political contract and mobilized student and labor activists and have won the support of intellectuals and political elites,” stated Dr. Shirin Saeidi. Dr. Saeidi, author of Women and the Islamic Republic: How Gendered Citizenship Conditions the Iranian State and Director of the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Arkansas, shared her insights on the protest movement in Iran at a May 17th panel hosted by the National Iranian American Council. The virtual panel featured experts sharing their insights on the recent Woman, Life, Freedom protests, and the complex path ahead for U.S.-Iran relations after five years of “maximum pressure” sanctions. 

Dr. Saeidi began by speaking on the protests in Iran and highlighted that “Iranian women have been at the forefront of resistance since 1979.” She went on to say that the demands for change being made by Iranian citizens and women especially is part of a renegotiation of the social contract between the people and the government. Such efforts would not be possible if Iranian women weren’t already empowered as they have been through 40 years of pushing back against the Islamic Republic. 

Dr. Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi, Chair of the Near Eastern Studies Department at Princeton University and Director of the Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmini Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, dove into the subject of sanctions and their objectives versus what they actually achieve. He warned that the sanctions have, in reality, “empowered the most militant factions in the (Iranian) government. It never helped any democratic processes and changes in the country, and it created a lack of transparency that generated a form of crony capitalism that basically perpetuates the livelihood of the state.” 

Dr. Ghamari-Tabrizi continued, declaring that economy wide sanctions are morally wrong as they “contributed to the misery of millions of people. And those people who would think that misery breeds rebellion and revolution, they are utterly and absolutely wrong. If that were the case, we would have revolutions every single day around the world. The great majority of people in this world live under utter conditions of misery. Misery does not breed revolution. Misery disenfranchises people. Misery adds to hardship that people go through in their life and, in fact, generates a politics of despair, rather than a politics of change and hope.”

But war is never the solution, either, Dr. Ghamari-Tabrizi further stated, citing the outcomes of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya as examples of the detriment that should be avoided at all costs. He emphasized that under sanctions, people cannot mobilize themselves effectively to enact the change that they deserve. Dr. Saeidi also contributed to this subject, highlighting that sanctions do not effectively lead to regime change. She further stated that “When sanctions go on for over 40 years and have no effect, it is very unlikely that they will create change. What does make change is people on the ground, and they are being hurt by sanctions.”

Joel Rubin, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State under the Obama Administration and current President of the Washington Strategy Group, addressed questions regarding Iran’s growing nuclear developments, noting that the state of “chaotic dynamism” that Iran’s nuclear growth has caused stems directly from the decision made under the Trump Administration withdraw from the JCPOA and instead employ the now-failed maximum pressure campaign against Iran. And since then, Rubin stated, Iran has managed to “use its most frightening tool…to create uncertainty and insecurity in the region.” Amid these growing concerns, Rubin warned that with no seemingly easy way out, there is certainly no military solution to curtailing Iran’s nuclear program

As for threats of war coming from Israel, Rubin added that the Biden Administration has successfully reined in the Netanyahu government, the most right-wing administration in Israeli history, when it has tried. On the effects of a potential war with Iran, Rubin stated:

“Military action–absolute disaster for Iranian human rights. For folks who are out there who want to say ‘military action to replace the regime and get rid of it let’s start a war,’ we’ve kind of seen how that backfires in a horrifying way, as Behrooz alluded to in Iraq. The misery created by war is not just incalculable…but it’s highly unpredictable. I don’t think anybody can tell us with confidence that there’s a simple, easy, military way out of this box. No there is not, this is complicated. Starting a war will make it that much harder.

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