Sanctions and Speeches Won't Bring Down the Mullahs

If we can't even bring down the Maduro regime, why would Iran fear us?

Why do so many people believe that inflicting economic pain on Iran will produce some sort of happy ending to the forty-year war between the Islamic Republic and the United States? 

As I listen to our leaders and read our pundits, I hear two main themes. The first is that, eventually, sanctions will so debilitate the Tehran regime that it will fall. The second is that, eventually, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will send his diplomats back to the negotiating table and a new “deal” will be worked out.

I don’t believe either scenario. I don’t think economic misery produces revolution. That is vulgar Marxism clouding your mind. If misery kicked off revolution, we’d see revolutions in North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba and chunks of Asia. We don’t, because successful revolutions are produced by potent political leadership, not long unemployment lines.

Lenin and Kerensky can explain this to you, if you haven’t agreed yet.

I don’t think misery leads to new negotiations and a new deal, either. I think the first negotiations came about when President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif convinced Khamenei that America had no will to challenge Iran directly, and hence would be extremely generous at the negotiating table. And so it was. I doubt that the mullahs expect Trump, Bolton and Pompeo to be as generous as Obama and Kerry.

Nor, on the other hand, do I think the Supreme Leader and his cohorts believe that Trump is prepared to assault the Islamic Republic. Perhaps they feared him for the first year or so of his presidency, but, after comparing notes with the North Koreans, Russians, Cubans and Venezuelans, the Iranians are probably convinced that ours is a mean-looking dog that barks a lot but isn’t going to savage them.

Venezuela is in our back yard, its people are suffering at least as much as the Iranians, yet it doesn’t look like we understand what it takes to bring down the Maduro regime. If we can’t do that, how can the mullahs be expected to fear us?

The tyrants of Tehran have probably learned a very important lesson from the Russians: faced with a crisis, it may be best to do nothing. Remember the Soviet ”era of stagnation,” aka the post-Khrushchev years? Here’s what my friend, the former GRU colonel who calls himself Victor Suvarov, recently wrote about that period. It fits contemporary Iran elegantly:

The country was sinking into a quagmire, and there were two options: either to do nothing, or to jerk it out.

By doing nothing, one could last longer. By jerking it out one would be sucked in faster. Brezhnev did nothing, and ruled happily for 18 years. Two elderly men Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko followed his path, then Gorbachev tried to jerk it out…

The mullahs are a bunch of old men, and just like the Soviet Union at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, they know they would not survive an armed conflict with the United States. Why should they commit suicide, especially since the Americans are going to vote again in just a year and a half? Those friendlier Democrats might win, and that might be a better moment to return to the nice Viennese hotels and the warm embrace of the Western journalists.

If you were in Ali Khamenei’s sandals, what would you do? With Gorbachev’s humiliating example so close at hand, wouldn’t you do…nothing?

Which brings me back, as always, to my old sermon, the one I have been preaching for forty years. If your mission is to bring down the Tehran tyranny (as it should be), you’re going to have to help make it happen. Speeches and sanctions likely won’t get it done.


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