In lieu of controversial policy creation, Trump is uniting the world. The latest wave of solidarity came this past week, as European leaders pledged to uphold the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
Trump pulled out of the deal in May when he imposed heavy sanctions against Tehran and anyone who continues to do business with Iran. The global consensus is clear: not only will this decision harm the US’s allies, it’s likely to push Iran further into the control of radical extremists.
The 2015 deal stipulated that the Iranian government cut down on its uranium stockpile and scaled down its enrichment program. Iran would notify the UN if it were to build any other nuclear facilities. In exchange, the UN would lift its sanctions. The US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran signed the deal.
Trump called the deal the “worst ever” in his 2016 campaign. He intends to exert, “maximum economic pressure” on Iran in order to force a renegotiation.
These sanctions have little to no chance of bringing Iran to the table. It’s true—Obama’s intense sanctions did push Iran to negotiate in 2016—but the rest of the world joined him in exerting economic pressure. This time, the US acts alone.
A statement from EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Britain said that they would maintain, “effective financial channels” so that Iran can keep exporting oil and gas. “We deeply regret the re-imposition of sanctions by the US,” said the statement. They said that the 2015 agreement, “is a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture, crucial for the security of Europe, the region, and the entire world.”
Moscow called the decision, “deeply disappointing.” The Russian Foreign Ministry said, “there are no—and can be no—grounds for breaking” the deal, “the United States is undermining international trust in the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
The National Iranian American Council stated, “considering the dramatic consequences for U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, the Trump administration should not be given free rein to plunge the United States into a confrontation with its closest allies and partners.”
And indeed, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ruled out negotiations with Trump. “Even if we ever—impossible as it is—negotiated with the US, it would never ever be with the current US administration.”
It is evident that the sanctions won’t bring Iran to the negotiating table. But the damage doesn’t stop there. Trump also threatens to sanction European companies who continue to do business with Iran—a likely possibility given that European investment in Iran has boomed over the past two and a half years. This will only further alienate the US from its European allies.
Furthermore, history clearly demonstrates that sanctions directly prevent the development of democracy and push countries further into the clutch of authoritarian regimes. A 2009 study by University of Memphis political scientists Dursen Peksen and Cooper Drury states that “sanctions shift the balance of power in a society in the regime’s favor. As sanctions make resources harder to find, authoritarian regimes hoard them. They make the population more dependent on their largesse and withhold resources from those who might threaten their rule.”
Sanctions, “erode the habits and capacities necessary to sustain liberal democracy over the long term.” They weaken the economy, which often drives professionals out of the country. Economic pressure on individual families encourages them to take their daughters out of school and marry them off at a young age. People grow accustomed to the black market, to the state of lawlessness that comes with avoiding government policies.
Even Obama’s 2010 sanctions had a significant humanitarian impact. The Atlantic reports that, between 2012 and 2014, the number of Iranian families living below the poverty line nearly doubled. Their access to food was limited. They couldn’t import prescription drugs. In 2013, Iranian-American writer and filmmaker Beheshteh Farsheneshani said that “sanctions on Iran are only severely weakening the middle class, breaking the collective will and marginalizing democratic voices while solidifying the power of the ruling elite.”
Ironically, it was the effect of these sanctions that led Iran to elect Hassan Rouhani in 2013. Rouhani, a reformist, said that he would make a deal with the US in order to bring the Iranian economy out of the rut.
Now, Trump’s decision to pull out of the deal portends political troubles for Rouhani as the ayatollah (Iran’s Shiite religious leader) blames him for the crisis. Undoubtedly, right-wing figures are ready to step in as Rouhani’s moderate approach loses credibility.
In short, Trump is breeding the type of political extremism that he intends to combat. His belligerence threatens nuclear nonproliferation, the stability of the Middle East, the US’s relationships with its allies, and the wellbeing of Iranian citizens whose country is likely to slide even further towards extremism.