Insisting that the purpose of US sanctions against Iran is to cause a ‘change in the behavior’ of Iranian government, Pompeo has tried to shield the administration from the criticism that it is seeking an unlawful ‘regime change’ in Iran in violation of UN Charter and international norms.
Pompeo’s earlier 12-point demands from Iran, announced immediately after Trump’s May exit from the Iran nuclear deal, conveys a similar impression and, subsequently, Pompeo has defended his maximalist demands from Iran, which lack any legal basis whatsoever and simply represent an arbitrary wish list on the part of US, as quite ‘ordinary’ when, in fact, there is nothing ordinary about a government leveling extra-legal and arbitrary demands from another government while holding the fingers on the trigger of unilateral and unlawful sanctions, reflecting the poison pills of American foreign policy.
Of course, the ruse of ‘regime change’ approach under the more marketable veneer of modifying Iran’s ‘behavior’ falls by the way side when considering (a) the naked economic aggression aimed at ‘crushing’ Iran’s economy in Pompeo’s own words, (b) the US’s total disregard for international norms and the UN Security Council’s decision on the nuclear deal incumbent on all member states including the US, and (c) the concurrent blistering public attacks on Tehran in the strongest language, reflecting Iranophobia ran amok. Both Pompeo, and his even more hawkish co-conspirator John Bolton, aptly denounced by North Koreans who have refused to negotiate with him, are indeed strong ‘regime change’ advocates and, yet, refuse to acknowledge the actual US policy against Iran, among other reasons, because they are fully aware of the likely futility of their strategy against an adversary that has successfully resisted the American pressure for nearly 40 years.
This aside, to deconstruct the White House’s hostile narrative on Iran, suffice to say that US is a poor candidate to act as the guardian of ‘normal behavior,’ in light of its own exceptional and highly dreadful history of interventionism and militarism abroad and callous disregard for international norms and principles, vividly demonstrated in its recent gambits in the Middle East, its misbehavior against a whole slew of nations such as Cuba and Nicaragua and Venezuela that hark back to the 19th century Monroe Doctrine and its license to invade under the guise of manifest destiny. Now it turns out that US’s new manifest destiny is to ‘normalize’ its perceived adversaries by the illegitimate hammer of sanctions and threats, this while its own allies such as Saudi Arabia go unpunished while abusing human rights at home and violating the sovereignty of their neighbors and, worse, committing horrific atrocities in Yemen while aiding and arming radical salafi groups in Syria and elsewhere in the region.
Little wonder, then, that the US foreign policy is in serious trouble, with hardly any evidence of success on any front, in light of the trade wars with China and Europe, sanctions and open verbal warfare with NATO ally Turkey, and its present attempt at cajoling the rest of the world behind the ‘sanctions regime’ on Iran twisting the arms of allies and friends, such as India, whose brave foreign minister has openly questioned the legitimacy of US unilateral sanctions on Iran. Faced with a united front of other JCPOA signatories in defense of the nuclear deal, Pompeo faces the tall challenge of selling his illegitimate Iran policy to the rest of the world, that is still reeling by the impacts of US’s ‘pre-textual war’ on Iraq costing trillions of dollars and heightening international terrorism. Instead of focusing on the real threat to stability, as witnessed in Afghanistan and the resurgence of ISIS terrorists in parts of Iraq today, Pompeo has singled out Iran by resorting to a systematic misrepresentation of Iran’s regional behavior, which is in fact openly praised by Iran’s neighbors particularly in the Caspian basin and Central Asia. Fact is that Iran has had a constructive role in regional stability and is the target of Saudi and Israeli politics of scapegoat aimed at deflecting attentions to their outrageous misbehavior decried in the international community except in the US.
Indeed, Mr. Pompeo ought to take a serious look at himself in the mirror and stop turning a blind eye to the abnormal and rogue behavior US’s allies in the region that must be condemned by any stretch of rule-based imagination. With allies like these flouting international norms on a daily basis, US which is complicit in the Yemen atrocities, has no moral standing, let alone legal, to preach Iran how to behave in its own region. But, of course, the ‘regime change’ policy is poorly camouflaged as a more modest ‘regime behavior change’ is destined to fail both by virtue of its sheer illegality and the weight of history operating against Iran and exposing its true unsavory nature.
*Kaveh L. Afrasiabi is political scientist specializing in Iran’s foreign affairs. He has co-authored Iran Nuclear Accord and the Remaking of the Middle East (2018)