Under the American administration’s “maximum economic pressure” campaign, Iran has seen its economy crumble, inflation and unemployment soar, and its oil exports rapidly fall to under 200,000 barrels a day from more than two million. Iran’s financial and military support for the terrorist organizations Hezbollah and Hamas also has markedly declined. Pictured: An oil production platform in Iran’s Soroush oil fields. (Image source: VOA)
Since the Islamic Republic of Iran was created in 1979, the regime in Tehran has been at war with the United States and its allies, revealing itself to be an expansionist nation, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and having “blood lust for its enemies.”
The 2015 signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — which Iran did not sign — and otherwise bafflingly known as the “nuclear deal with Iran,” was falsely claimed by its supporters in the West to prevent the ayatollah-led regime from obtaining nuclear weapons, even though its most salient feature was its “sunset clause” enabling Iran to have as many as it liked in just a few short years. As the Israeli government repeatedly warned, the JCPOA actually “put Iran on a glide path” towards a nuclear-weapons capability.
Furthermore, the Iranian government refused to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect sites at which there was suspected nuclear activity for military purposes. It was not until the Israeli Mossad retrieved a trove of documents from a warehouse in Tehran in mid-2018 that concrete evidence of such activity was shown.
It was partly on the basis of the above evidence that US President Donald J. Trump made the final decision to withdraw from the JCPOA in May 2018, and to reinstate sanctions against Iran’s regime. The US administration’s move was criticized heavily by America’s European allies, such as France and Germany, which sought to work around the sanctions by providing billions of dollars of credit to Iran and trade through a system called INSTEX.
Even some professional security-policy pundits in Washington, D.C. kept arguing that the JCPOA was working well, and that the Iranian government was on the verge of moderating its terrorist behavior.
Iran’s response to the White House policy — and European appeasement — was to attack American drones and foreign-owned oil tankers, culminating in a multiple missile- and drone-strike on two major Saudi oil production-and-processing facilities, which caused a 5% drop in worldwide oil production and a 15% spike in oil prices.
Iran’s aggression set off a round of critical commentary against the American administration, and many calls on Washington to engage in diplomacy with Tehran towards a return to the JCPOA. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for instance, recently argued that by returning to the 2015 nuclear deal and dropping sanctions, the American administration could secure an end to Iranian attacks on the oil infrastructure that powers the world’s industrial economy. It took British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to explain that something very positive was being accomplished by America’s new Iran policy.
First, America’s fracking revolution has boosted daily oil and gas production in the US from 5 million barrels a day to between 12-17.87 million barrels, making it the largest oil producer in the world. That is why the decline in Saudi oil production — due to Iranian aggression — did not cause a panic in global oil markets, and prices settled at a relatively modest increase.
Third, because of forensic evidence gathered by Saudi Arabia, the Europeans no longer could ignore or cover for Iranian and Iranian-backed terrorism, despite Tehran’s surreal repeated denials of any complicity in the oil-tanker attacks.
Fourth, the criticism of the American administration’s “maximum economic pressure” campaign against Iran suddenly muted, as the strategy both to change European and other allies’ attitudes toward the JCPOA and to bring down Iran economically appeared to be working.
Iran has, indeed, seen its economy crumble, inflation and unemployment soar, and its oil exports rapidly fall to under 200,000 barrels a day from more than two million. Iran’s financial and military support for the terrorist organizations Hezbollah and Hamas also has markedly declined.
Why the positive development?
In response to the Iranian military attacks, the American government, which had been flirting with the idea of renewed diplomacy, instead enhanced its already tough economic sanctions and avoided a retaliatory military strike. Washington thus revealed itself to be far more clever than its critics: if the US had taken military action, and Iranian civilian casualties had been incurred, Tehran would have claimed to be the victim — and US aggression would have become the center of debate. Even without that pretext, Iran has been claiming to be the victim and accused the US of being the “supporter of terrorism in our region.”
In short, through a combined policy of military restraint and economic pressure, the Trump administration has shifted the entire discussion on Iran.
No longer is preserving the JCPOA the issue, but rather jettisoning it and perhaps starting over. No longer is the use or abuse of American military power the focus of debate, but rather Iran’s terrorist activities — not just against America and Israel — but against the entire world’s energy sources.
The late US President Ronald Reagan bankrupted the Soviet Union through taking down its proxies around the world, with the help of such groups as the Solidarity movement in Poland and the democratic resistance in Nicaragua. His programs, such as the Strategic Defense Initiative, made it untenable for Moscow to maintain its empire, which broke up in 1991.
One hopes that the Trump administration’s use of economic pressure against Iran — with the help and missile-defense mechanisms of America’s Middle East allies, including Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia — may cause the four-decade run of the Iranian mullahs’ war against America and Western civilization to come to an end.
But this can only happen if — in the words of the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — America and its allies “don’t go wobbly.”
Dr. Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm he founded in 1981, as well as Director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. He was also for 20 years, the senior defense consultant at the National Defense University Foundation.