ODVV interview: The goal of the sanctions is to...
Relations between Iran and the United States have become increasingly tense in the recent weeks, as some observers have warned the two countries are on the cusp of a military confrontation. Statements by Iranian and American officials point to a worrying rise of tensions and escalation of hostilities. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has likened the situation of the country to the gloomy days of war with Iraq (1980-1988) when Saddam Hussein’s army invaded different Iranian cities and Iran had to defend itself with empty hands under the weight of the global arms embargo, which made it unable to purchase advanced weaponry to use in the conflict.
The Trump administration has used different options at its disposal to maximize pressure on Iran and ensure the capitulation of the Iranian government: withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, enforcing hard-hitting economic sanctions, designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization and deploying two sophisticated warships in the Persian Gulf. There’s no indication that the White House is willing to give diplomacy and engagement a chance to work and this is what has made the advocates of peace and reconciliation in the region more concerned than ever.
At the moment, the fate of the Iran nuclear deal lingers in uncertainty and it’s highly probable that it will collapse. Iran has scrapped some of its commitments under the nuclear deal and authorities in Tehran have warned they may consider abandoning the JCPOA altogether if the European Union fails to find a solution to resist the US sanctions and ensure Iran benefits from the economic dividends of the pact.
Joan Wallach Scott is a prominent American historian and Professor Emerita in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. She is the recipient of several national and international awards including the American Historical Association's Herbert Baxter Adams Prize and the Hans Sigrist Award for Outstanding Research in Gender Studies.
Organization for Defending Victims of Violence has arranged an interview with Prof. Joan Wallach Scott to discuss the ups and downs of Iran-US relations, the human cost of the US sanctions and the fate of the JCPOA. The following is the text of the interview.
Q: Iran achieved a long-awaited agreement with the international community over its nuclear activities in 2015 and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was born after months of engaged diplomacy and intense negotiations. What are the implications of the US withdrawal from the JCPOA for nuclear non-proliferation, multilateralism and global peace and security?
A: It should be made clear at the outset that I am not an expert on US foreign policy, on Middle East history, or Iran. My answers are those of an educated American citizen who follows the news and reads what she can to inform herself about it.
The implications of the US withdrawal are disastrous. I think they are meant to stir up conflict in the Middle East, deliberately and provocatively. For some US politicians war is the desired outcome; for others “regime change” secured in other ways.
Q: The presidential campaign is underway in the United States and five major Democratic Party nominees have vowed that they will reenter the Iran nuclear deal if elected president. Can a decision by the U.S. government to rejoin the JCPOA alleviate tensions between Iran and the United States, stabilize the Middle East and decrease the fluctuations of the global oil markets?
A: I hope it will be the case, but the damage being done now by the Trump administration – and for the next two years – may be irreversible, especially when some of his advisors [such as] Bolton, Bannon and Pompeo are looking to ignite war.
Q: Remarkable achievements were made in the course of Iran-US relations under President Barack Obama and the officials of the two countries talked to each other on multiple occasions. The aggressive policy of Donald Trump vis-à-vis Iran undid these achievements. Why do you think Donald Trump has adopted a maximum pressure strategy on Iran? What is President Trump’s fierce anti-Iran policy inspired by?
A: I don’t know all the answers to this, but I think much of it has to do with Israel and with the determination of Netanyahu – and his American allies Adelson, Kushner, Friedman, et al – to eliminate the “Iranian threat” in the region. As is often the case, Israel is calling the shots for American policy. But there are also, of course, other forces – the Saudis prime among them – who also would like a conflict to settle the question of which states will dominate the course of things in the region. And Saudi domination will be no less ruthless and dangerous than what is now attributed to Iran.
Q: After discarding the JCPOA, the United States reinstated all the sanctions that were lifted as part of the nuclear deal. The sanctions are immensely extensive and wide-ranging and the goal is to drive Iran’s oil exports to zero. This is while the UN Security Council hasn’t endorsed these measures. Has the Trump administration been successful in forging a global coalition against Iran and dissuade different world countries from doing business with Iran?
A: I think the Trump administration is trying to bully other world countries into acceding to his demands – threatening sanctions, for example, against many of the European nations that have remained committed to the JCPOA. The US seems to have the economic power to do this – or to try to. I hope the European Union nations will hold out against this and continue to adhere to the JCPOA, but I don’t know that they can or will be able to. You need to ask someone more astute about global politics to answer this question – but I imagine the answers will not be broad generalizations about global coalitions, but rather an analysis of the political and economic stakes for different nations and regions in the world. As a historian, I think there are contingent factors we can’t predict – but we can use them to explain things after the fact!
Q: As confirmed by scholars and experts, the US sanctions on Iran have left grave impacts on the lives of ordinary citizens, causing the unprecedented devaluation of currency, skyrocketing rise of the consumer prices and staggering inflation. Are these punishing sanctions consistent with the proclamations of the US officials who say they are firm in supporting the Iranian people?
A: I think the goal of the sanctions is to create chaos in Iran, to turn the ordinary citizens against the regime – it’s regime change by starvation. US officials don’t care at all about ordinary citizens – look at the vast damage done to civilians by our drone strikes and other forms of non-military and military engagement. When they invoke “human rights” they are doing it hypocritically, in the service of some political strategy informed by other geo-political and geo-economic interests. In fact, they are using the plight of ordinary citizens as a weapon of subversion – hoping to, by provoking massive discontent, topple the existing regime. We’re doing that, too, in Venezuela right now. One doesn’t have to be a supporter of the Iranian government to object to these tactics both on diplomatic and humanitarian grounds.
Q: The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said his country is after a better deal with Iran. The Trump administration, however, never put forward an alternative to the JCPOA after exiting the accord, nor did it offer any Plan B for the future of its relations with Iran. Nobody knows what the components and features of a better deal with Iran are. Is this vague approach to relations with Iran going to produce significant results or is a military confrontation what the two countries should gear up for?
A: For Pompeo, as for Trump, these “deals” are about securing the dealmakers dominance in the bargain, bringing the other side to its knees. The “art of the deal” is about securing the superior virility of the dealmaker, not about negotiations with others whom one respects or considers equals in any sense – however much these others represent a different and even objectionable approach to “our” way of doing politics.
Q: The hard-hitting economic sanctions, as confirmed by the UN special rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures, violate the rights of ordinary citizens and make the daily life difficult for them. Why haven’t the international organizations and bodies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reacted to the grueling US sanctions on Iran?
A: I don’t know the answer to this except to say that it perhaps has something to do with their concern about the way Iran handles human rights issues.
It may also have to do with the availability of information from within Iran about the effects of the sanctions – I imagine the regime there would want to minimize the impact. But I really don’t know. I certainly think those organizations should be condemning the US not only for its sanctions, but for increasing the likelihood that there will be war as a result of withdrawing from the JCPOA. War is the grossest violation of human rights one can imagine!
Q: Do you think the European Union has the capacity to safeguard the nuclear deal and pay the price for saving it by resisting the unilateralism of the United States? Is the special purpose vehicle devised by the three major EU powers called INSTEX, which is aimed at facilitating humanitarian trade with Iran, able to satisfy Tehran and serve as an incentive for Iran to remain in the JCPOA?
A: All I can say is that I hope INSTEX will work, but the economic bullying power of the US is going to be – has already turned out to be – hard to resist. And I guess I don’t trust any politicians to hold to principles, moral or otherwise, to guide their actions. What is the advantage to the EU in resisting the US? What will the European parliamentary elections bring in the form of enhanced right wing pressure on the EU and on its member nations to accede to US demands?
By: Kourosh Ziabari