Trump’s Illegal Economic Sanctions Against Iran Start Up

Yves here. It is probably too optimistic to think that the Trump Administration’s Iran bloodlust is actually just another episode of geopolitical gaslighting of the sort Trump engaged in with North Korea. But as long as John Bolton is well ensconced, this can’t be assumed not to be the real deal.

By Barkley Rosser, Professor of Economics at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Originally published at

Today, President Trump’s promised abjuration of President Obama’s hard-negotiated nuclear deal with Iran,the JCPOA, jointly agreed with Russia, China, UK, France, Germany, the EU, and the Security Council of the United Nations. All parties agree that Iran has held to the agreement, so Trump’s move is completely internationally illegal. His move is supported by exactly four other nations on the planet, and only them: Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain, a group that contains about 0.5% of the world’s population. Of course the percentage rises by a couple of percent when we add Trump supporters who applaud him keeping a campaign promise, even though most of them have no idea what this is really all about.

It is clear that Trump has mostly done this to undo something Obama did, although he also very much likes pleasing the leaders of three of those nations,who have managed to get his ear. But it is not even obvious that the undoing of this agreement will actually help these nations, even though they clearly think so. The least important of them, Bahrain, might get a slight gain given that it is a majority Shia nation ruled by an oppressive Sunni elite. Maybe putting Iran under economic pressure will reduced Iranian support for restive Bahraini Shia. But then, maybe the Iranians will respond by increasing their support. Both the KSA and UAE view themselves as jousting with Iran in the Persian Gulf, although Iran has never invaded or militarily threatened either. They were not in danger, so they will not be better off. of course, the Saudis blame Iran for the success of the Houthi rebels in Yemen, where the Saudis have been heavily bombing for three years, killing many civilians. But most serious sources say that the Iranians support for the Houthis has been minimal in material terms, if not nonexistent. But given how low that is, even a worsened economic situation in Iran seems unlikely to make them halt that minimum aid, and mostly the Saudis are scapegoating the Iranians for their failure to defeat the Houthis.

As for Israel, their main concern seems to be Iranian support for Hezbollah in Lebanon (and Syria) and Hamas in Gaza, although Hamas is a Sunni group. Based on Trump’s own statement yesterday, these are the main things he seems to be concerned about. He wants Iranian support for those groups reduced. Maybe that will happen, but while in the past Hezbollah did carry out terrorist actiffset ons in many places (Buenos Aires, for example), it is a long time since describing them as “terrorist” has been at all accurate. They have long since become part of the ruling coalition in Lebanon. They have been tamed, but the Israelisare very unhappy that they were unable to outright defeat Hezbollah the last time they invaded Lebanon. But even if Iranian aid to them is reduced, it is unlikely that that would make much difference to an outcome id they were to reinvade Lebanon. And it should be kept in mind that prior to the 1982 Israeli invasion the Lebanese Shia were largely sympathetic to Israel, and there was no Hezbollah. Just as with Hamas that they encouraged to offset the more moderate PLO, so the Israelis are themselves responsible for the very existence of Hezbollah.

Now it must be recognized that Trump’s reimposition of economic sanctions will have an impact on Iran. Even though none of the other nations in the JCPOA support Trump’s move, his threat to ban any company violating the sanctions from operating in the US is forcing some major European companies to leave Iran if they have much larger dealings in the US, even if their governments disagee with their moves. The most prominent companies leaving Iran now are Total and Peugeot from France and Siemens from Germany, although apparently some smaller companies with little business in the US will continue. Another round of sanctions in November will target Iranian oil exports, although there is reason to believe many nations buying oil from Iran will continue to do so then. Nevertheless, for all its illegality, Trump’s reimposition of sanctions will almost certainly damage the already struggling Iranian economy, with demonstrations against the regime periodically breaking out there.

Of course it would appear that what Trump and such aides as John Bolton and Mike Pompeo want, as well as the leaderships of the four nations listed above,is “regime change” in Iran. The short run reaction so far has been a rise in support for the moderate Rouhani government by its hardline opponents. As it is, the most likely outcome if the weakening economy weakens political support for the government will not be regime change but simply a takeover by the hardliners. This group contains many who never supported the JCPOA, and they may well then leave it and return to enriching uranium to a high level. This will increase the national security of any of those four nations? That it would not is seen by the support for the JCPOA given publicly by many retrired Israeli military and intelligence figures.

Needless to say, there has been heightened warlike rhetoric between Iranian and US leaders.I regret that Rouhani felt he had to indulge in the first round of this. Probably this is all just chest thumping noise, but it is clear that there are some among those four nations as well as in the US who would like the US to either bomb Iran or invade it. Given how much larger and more powerful it is than Iraq under Saddam Hussein, this looks extremely dangerous, in light of what a disaster the invasion of Iraq turned out to be. Of course, given that Iran is not involved in developing nuclear weapons and has remained in accord with the JCPOA, there is no such justification for such an invasion, which would probably end up creating major problems for the Gulf nations, if not Israel, although I think the Saudi leadership is too egomaniacally stupid and incompetent to figure this out.

Yet another irony is that if either through triggering some kind of successful democratic uprising that would overthrow the Islamic regime, or if one were to be installed a la Iraq after a “successful” invasion, this regime would demand to have civilian nuclear power, which is overwhelmingly supported by the Iranian population (although maybe aid to Hezbollah and Hamas would end). The opposition Greens, who were violently suppressed in 2009, supported civilian nuclear power. Iran has been working for it since Eisenhower initially provided US support for it in Iran to the Shah. In the end the outcome in terms of the nuclear issue, after who knows how much cost in lives and material, would be something like what we had with the JCPOA,a carefully monitored and controlled civilian nuclear program. But it is clear that Trump is not even thinking about any part of this aspect of the matter, so focused is he on scoring short run political points and pleasing a narrow set of allies against the vast majority of world opinion, as well as an agreement made by the US government.

I see little prospect this will end well and serious danger this could lead to a seriously bad outcome. I have said it before, and I say it again: abrogating the JCPOA with Iran is by far Donald J. Trump’s worst foreign policy mistake, even as few Americans realize it yet.

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33 comments

  1. The Rev Kev

    Really hard to understand Trump’s obsession with Iran. The only parties that really benefit from Trump breaking that international treaty and bully other countries to follow along are countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia. Maybe there is a hint about an obsession with Iran’s oil and bringing it under western control but that can’t be all of it. Trying to put it into context, I note the enormous pressure that Trump is putting on China as well as a sanction bill being put together against Russia that would more or less make it illegal around the world to buy anything Russian.
    I do recall a study saying how American military and economic power is being superseded by countries like China and Russia and perhaps there is the key. If this is so and America’s situation would worsen as we transcend into a multipolar world, perhaps this is a last ditch effort to try to have America write the rules of international relations while it still can. As time goes on it will get harder and harder to do so so perhaps this explains the urgency here. Even Obama stated how with the TPP it was a matter of America writing the rules of trade for the region (yes, he actually came out and said it). Maybe this is part of a larger effort to do more of the same on a larger scale. Kinda like make or break time.

    Reply
    1. David Miller

      Not just Trump’s obsession with Iran – rather, the entire establishment neocon apparatus doing what America always does. Which is to behave like an absurd caricature of an ex-paramour and never, ever, ever turn the page. Act up and talk back, little country? You’re getting stalked and harassed until the end of time.

      True as to Cuba, Iran, and arguably North Korea. Vietnam being the outlier – but I wonder if that “ex” is just the one that caused so much trouble that it just is being ignored. i.e. let’s just pretend nothing ever happened.

      Reply
      1. HotFlash

        Interesting thought, the US as a stalking ex. I think you are on to something. The energy and single-mindedness of the recent US governments’ illegal, illogical, and irrational treatment of Iran is something from the unconscious. Government by Monsters from the Id?

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      2. Darius

        Many of them have forgotten why Iran drives them to a blind rage. It’s all about the hostage crisis of 38 years ago.

        They can’t base their demands on something of a historic nature so they say just-so things like “Iran is the biggest sponsor of state terrorism.” Not based in any fact, since, obviously, international terrorism mostly is a product of Saudi-sponsored Wahhabism.

        It’s also in Netanyahu’s interest to provoke a crisis with Iran. In some ways, he has a greater hold on the MAGA crowd than Trump does.

        The more intelligent see Iran as a threat to US petrodollar supremacy. But the MAGA types don’t know anything about that. They don’t even remember the hostage crisis.

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        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          Belief in the “little yellow people” is important. “American exceptionalism” is a driving force. The idea Iran will be an easy conquest is part of this, and yes, the ilk of the neocons believes Iran would collapse quickly desperate for proper imperial management.

          This element doesn’t care about the hostages. Argo was a Canadian operation after all. The warmongers care about the loss of imperial control and the insult to American dominance. Its no different than how the Cardassians felt about the Bajorans, an obvious parallel about how former imperial powers felt about the former subjects.

          Reply
          1. workingclasshero

            The u.s. will obsess about iran until it can gain majority control of that nations banking/financial system.to put it simply it’s trying to “open up the economy”.right now china,cuba,north korea,the russian federation and maybe vietnam are on the same target list,and the u.s. has all the time in the world and the cards(world class miltary and alliance system) to get it done.every one of those countries has a high borgeoise comprador class just waiting in the wings to play their part.

            Reply
    2. timbers

      Really hard to understand Trump’s obsession with Iran

      Not to me, it’s not. One word: Israel.

      You know…the nation along with the U.S. govt that meddled in the 2016 election.

      Reply
      1. RUKidding

        Mainly that, but also Trump is obsessed with undoing anything that Obama did, no matter what. In this case, I agree with the Obama’s negotiated treaty, but Trump and his fans are opposed to anything “that one” did. Ergo…

        Nothing rational about it, but pleasing Israel and Saudi are big es as far as Trump’s concerned.

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      2. Code Name D

        Trump now lives inside the Washington bubble. They (the deep state) control the vertical, they control the horizontal. I suspect they are stove-piping Trump inteligence that compeles his current behavor twords Iran.

        I hate to say it, but an Iranian nvasion may be inevitable at this point. It may just be a mater of time.

        And yet, this may be in large part Israli influence. But there are plenty of domestic forces at work here. A “crises” with Iran (Putin’s allie of course) would be used to jusify further media crackdowns. The Russia hystaria would be amped beyond 11.

        And while my tin-foil-hat is on, I also suspect Iran may be the stepping stone to invading Russia. The deep state gets Trump to invade Iran. They then me up his inteligence to give him a set of military disasters. Hillery Clintion sweeps the 2020 election, turns around the Iran War, and is poised for her origianl goal of starting war with Russia.

        Too crazy to be true? (“^_^) boy I wish it was.

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      3. RBHoughton

        I believe the banks are biased in the matter of sanctions although I cannot say if Israel is promoting it. The big western banks have been saying that they dare not take a chance of involvement in any business with countries that Washington DC does not like as the law officers might implicate and trouble them whether they have acted wrongly or not.

        Whether this is being said truthfully or because supporting the USD is their basic law is unclear.

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    3. fajensen

      Really hard to understand Trump’s obsession with Iran.

      It makes sense* if we interpret the US Middle East policy as America fighting Saudi Arabias Jihad against The Infidel, The Apostates, The Heretics (and finally, The Jews) in order to summon God!

      The first regimes smashed by the US war-machine were secular ones – Apostates – punishable by death. Having sort-of run to of those, they are moving on to destroying Infidels – the Shias (and pretty much everyone else, including of course the EU, Russia and China).

      I don’t think Donald Trump actually cares about Iran on any deeper level than “Whatever Obama did must be razed to the ground” and having no personal principles at all (IMO) he probably will not want to stand in the way of The System, who wants to destroy The Heretics, et cetera.

      *) In my opinion, we are not dealing with what we would call rational people here. But, thats on “us”, because according to their own culture, beliefs and values, they are being perfectly rational.

      Reply
  2. John Beech

    Dear Yves,

    I fret that the President of the United States knows something you don’t. And despite his personally being a despicable sort I wouldn’t invite for dinner, that he better knows than you and me whether it’s a good deal, or not. The fact the Russians and the Europeans (who have a Russian energy dependence) aren’t aboard strangely makes me feel better.

    Also letting me sleep at night are the caliber of men with which he has surrounded himself. Men like John Kelly in the role of Leo McGarry to President Josiah Bartlet on the television show West Wing – I know some of the lines by heart, do you? Anyway, McMaster and Mattis round out a solid trio I trust far more than you may believe.

    So I wonder this; is it actually possible the Iran-deal wasn’t a good one? And if that’s the case, then is what you’re doing pro-America or is it possible you are in fact acting like a Russian agent undermining our national interests? Seriously . . . are you so utterly certain of yourself?

    Personally, I’m not so certain of my ‘opinion’ and thus, I trust them (Trump and his national security team) far more than I trust what mere civilians on a blog are writing – and more than I trusted President Obama. Or have you forgotten what he whispered to Medvedev in 2012 regarding having more flexibility on missile defense after the election. To me, that seemed treasonous.

    And if you can evaluate this honestly . . how would you be reacting right now if it were revealed President Trump had said that at his recent meeting with President Putin? Frankly, I suspect you’d wigging out. You and the rest of the liberal left. Anyway, I regularly read what you have to say. Why if i don’t agree with everything? Basically, as a check on what I read from right wingers as I chart my own course, which is somewhat down the middle. By the way, I’m a pro Medicare for All Republican so we agree on something!

    Finally, I honestly wish you didn’t let animus dictate your whole being because it surely has to be bad for your health. I mention this due to recently reading about the T-word being a huge cause of anxiety and anguish for psychological patients (meaning it probably is also affecting a lot of Americans who voted for HRC and aren’t sane enough to be getting help dealing with it). Just a thought.

    Reply
    1. Darius

      Yes. Let us now worship steely eyed, square jawed, gray haired, heroically posed ex-military men. They’re the best at maintaining the Empire.

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        1. John Wright

          It important that one spells the name of this strategically important Caribbean world power, that the USA triumphed over in 1983, correctly.

          It is “Grenada” NOT “Granada”.

          John Beech may not remember the Vietnam Era as I do.

          Many times it was proffered that “the government knows things we don’t” to justify the USA’s actions in Vietnam.

          It turned out that the government did know more, that being that the war was going even worse than the population suspected.

          I disliked both Trump and Clinton.

          But I still want Trump to do well.

          There may be no rabbit in the Trump’s Iranian magic hat, and I am not trusting it is there.

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    2. makedoanmend

      Trump’s Iranian policy is pleasing to you…

      …because you watched a TV show (really a fecken TV show?) and remember the diagloue…and because you believe this and that and the other without justifying your beliefs with data, prior ‘real world’ specifics, deductive reasoning, or examples that are relevant to the issues that now arise from new sanctions…or the affect that unilaterally breaking an international agreement will have on USA with regard to how every other country now views current US policy and actions…not to mention how any other country now thinks about future agreements with the US…

      …pure drivel…

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    3. geoff

      National Security Advisor John Bolton has advocated for war with Iran since the early days of the George W. Bush administration. The President’s friends Netanyahu and bin Salman would like nothing better than for the USA to attack their primary regional competitor. Withdrawing from the JCPOA is just the first step toward making the case for war.

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    4. kimyo

      you didn’t let animus dictate your whole being

      please. that is beyond pathetic and has no basis in reality.

      ps: how can you possibly believe that trump is running the show? imho, they barely let him manage his . everything else? that was decided long ago:

      ‘Here’s the paper from the Office of the Secretary of Defense [then Donald Rumsfeld] outlining the strategy. We’re going to take out seven countries in five years.’ And he named them, starting with Iraq and Syria and ending with Iran.”

      it’s not about trump. it’s not about hatred of trump. if you open your guide to the galaxy, you’ll see this:

      The President is very much a figurehead – he wields no real power whatsoever. He is apparently chosen by the government, but the qualities he is required to display are not those of leadership but those of finely judged outrage. For this reason the President is always a controversial choice, always an infuriating but fascinating character. His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it.

      An orange sash is what the President of the Galaxy traditionally wears.

      swap the sash for a comb-over hairdo and, voila, douglas adams for the win.

      Reply
    5. Gary

      The difficulties and international confusion caused by the Trump administration’s policies are well documented. Mr. Beech seems willing to suspend disbelief, contending that the president must know more than the rest of us, and that he is prepared to trust him. I am not. Don’t know what else to say. And by the way, Gen. McMaster has been out of the White House for some time now.

      Reply
      1. ChrisPacific

        This is the problem with trust based arguments: they are partisan. Take, for example, Hillary Clinton. There are plenty of people out there (admittedly not many at NC) who believed passionately in her caliber and quality of character, and felt equally strongly that she was the right person to lead the country. They did so for much the same reasons you offer for supporting Trump’s generals: she was superficially similar to an imaginary, idealized figure that they had in their heads, and so it was easy for them to use her as a template for projecting their political desires.

        If you [John Beech] are going to make a character-based argument for trusting that Trump and his advisors are doing the right thing, how would you respond to someone making the same argument about Hillary? For example, if she had won the election and was in Trump’s position right now? You (I imagine) wouldn’t trust her. The other person does. Where to from there? Presumably one of you is right and one of you is wrong, but you have no basis on which to explore that question on terms such that both of you could accept the answer. It’s just tribalism, in its purest form.

        We don’t do tribalism here at NC (at least we aim not to, and I think we succeed more often than not). What we do is critical thinking and analysis. If you are interested in that, then please stick around. If you are just going to make loyalty statements then I don’t think you will get much value out of commenting.

        Here’s a starter for you. You say you support Medicare for All. Trump, fairly obviously, does not, so you’ve chosen not to trust him on that point. Why that, and not his position on Iran?

        Reply
    6. Code Name D

      You almost had me … Untill you threwe in the line about being a Russan agent. Not realy, just being kind

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    7. kgw

      Bwahhaha, hawhaw, and a double-guffaw!!

      Thanks for the late-afternoon laugh, Mr. Birch…er. Beech!

      (☭ ͜ʖ ☭)

      Reply
    8. beelzebub

      “””recently reading about the T-word being a huge cause of anxiety and anguish for psychological patients (meaning it probably is also affecting a lot of Americans who voted for HRC and aren’t sane enough to be getting help dealing with it). Just a thought.””” I believe this is the Trump Derangement Syndrome” phenomenon launched by Whoopi Goldberg kicking some FOX news persona from her show. It is really rich; hearing about angry,deranged left/liberals from people who sound deranged every time they speak or write. Move on to the menace of Socialist Democrats won’t you, deranged one?

      Reply
  3. Norb

    I don’t think the neocons pushing these aggressive foreign policy moves fully appreciate how their actions are making the opposition more resiliant, and creative, while at the same time weakening the prepardedness of their own citizenry to face hardship and crisis. That spells failure in the long term.

    The United States is becoming a more divided country daily, while Iran seems united in their collective will to retain their countries sovereignty. Sanctions will only place their society on a wartime footing and solidify agreements with their trusted allies.

    A successful defense against US air assault by Iran could be the breaking point of US policy in the region. Escalation is the only other option, and I still have faith that the American people are not willing to sacrifice their own skins to achieve the dreams of neoliberal madmen.

    The American citizenry are given the option of participating in unjust wars of aggression, or face growing pressures of poverty alone, without government support. That makes for a very fragile country.

    If the whole world is a battlefield, unjustly attacking a capable Iran opens up a gigantic range of disruptive actions that cannot be predicted with any sort of certanty.

    The bullying nature of US foreign policy one day must meet its match, and the Iranians seem very capable of doing so- as are the Russians, North Koreans, Chinese……..

    Reply
  4. Ranger Rick

    “Internationally illegal.”
    That sounds rather painfully similar to “breaking with established norms” but with an international flair.

    Reply
  5. Raulb

    Its difficult to see how after Iraq, Libya and Syria any normal human being can support a war in Iran. It betrays an unsettling lack of any kind of morality and sinks us further into an abyss of barbarism and greed. You would have to be a racist psychopath to support a war in Iran after seeing the results of previous interventions.

    This is a large stable country with a rich history, the sheer recklessness of destabilizing and destroying entire countries, human history and putting millions of lives in disarray is an act of pure evil. These are undeniably crimes against humanity.

    And yet people can be so casual about it suggesting some kind of racism and dehumanization in action, an inability to empathize with the needless loss of life, millions of families in disarray and the suffering of of tens of millions of people brought on by your actions. This then becomes increasingly difficult to square with notions of western enlightenment, civilization and morality. You can’t claim civilization or morality while behaving like a barbarian. An attack on Iran will reveal something truly evil and odious in our world and make the dissonance untenable.

    The fallout will hit Europe first in millions more immigrants fanning more right wing extremism and racism, but leave self interest aside, if there is any claim to a higher morality and civilization this will be the last opportunity in our generation for Europe to step up and show its cards.

    Reply
  6. meadows

    If I were any nation hoping for reasonable adherence to international agreements I would assume that the US will act in a violent and sociopathic manner. I would make alliances as fast as possible with countries which recognize this fact.

    The US national security state is a dying beast thrashing it’s way to the ground…. get the heck out of it’s way ASAP and form defensive trade and military agreements.

    Reply
  7. Chauncey Gardiner

    What are the specific policy objectives and related costs of this decision by the Trump administration. Given the potential gravity of their chosen course of action, the neocons’ historical policy failures, and the costs of their decisions in human, monetary, military and environmental terms, this administration should be required by Congress to publicly defend their policy. Further, the unconstitutional expansion of war powers that has been ceded to the executive branch of government needs to be curtailed and reversed. This is likely to require the appointment of a different Supreme Court justice than the individual presently awaiting Senate confirmation of his appointment, or not.

    Reply

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