By Iran Review
By Dr. Cyrus Faizee
During all the past couple of years in which the United States has been leading the Western alliance against the Islamic Republic of Iran by making efforts to weaken or topple the Islamic establishment through imposition of economic sanctions, the experience of the past six months has been more interesting. Perhaps, the immediate impact of the sanctions have been highly damaging for Iran, but in the long run, the United States will also suffer a lot of damages. This issue is the main subject of the present article.
The first part of this article provides a cursory review of sanctions and tries to answer this important question: Have sanctions been actually effective? By staying away from political ballyhoo, this article aims to give a scientific answer to this question and focuses on the benefits of a political action to achieve a highly popular goal. Without putting undue emphasis on any specific figures I have to admit that Western sanctions against Iran have had serious harmful effects on the overall performance of the Iranian government. It is clear truth that Iran’s oil sales have dwindled and since oil sales constitute the main source of the Iranian government’s revenues, as a result of reduced oil exports, government’s revenues have seen a drastic cut. Therefore, one has to admit that the immediate impact of Western sanctions on the Iranian economy has been exhausting.
But “have the sanctions had the most deleterious impact on ordinary people or on the government?” I think their impact has been the highest on the ordinary people. The experience has shown that when the government’s revenues are high, it will appropriate more money to people’s welfare, will spend more money on social affairs and, in general, the government will become fatter in complexion and less thrifty in behavior. However, at times of economic pressure, governments usually spend more energy on overcoming hardships and barriers and, therefore, will have no more energy left to pay attention to less urgent matters. The experience of the Southeast Asian governments during the economic crisis in 1999, the past experience of the Iranian government during the years of war with Iraq (1980-88), especially in 1998-1999 period when oil prices fell as down as 7 dollars per barrel, and even the experience of the Western governments during the economic crisis in 2009, has proven that governments can withstand maximum degree of sanctions and pressures. What did the United States’ government do during the great economic depression of 1929? In all those cases, the governments chose for austerity measures and expanded their army’s by recruiting the jobless people. Therefore, it would not be unexpected if the Islamic Republic would opt to “resist” the external economic pressures by adopting austerity measures, which is otherwise called “the resistance economy.”
But how these sanctions can be harmful to the United States as well? This issue stems from the fact that in oil-rich countries, especially in Iran, oil means everything. In fact, oil is the entire economy. Without oil, no important sector of that economy will actually exist and it was no exaggeration when a scholar, when describing the influence of oil on culture, economy and politics of these countries, said, “The oil has infiltrated even your own selves.” Therefore, absence of oil or oil revenues would mean widespread unemployment and high inflation. However, these difficult consequences of the Western sanctions which are currently plaguing the Iranian government and nation can also befall the United States. However, it all depends on whether the government can get the people in line with its policies or not. In fact, the real war between the United States and the Islamic Republic over sanctions is “whether the United States will succeed in taking people away from the Islamic Republic” or “the Islamic Republic will succeed in attracting people and strengthen its link to them one more time following the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and based on negating the hegemony of the United States?”
Let’s delve into this issue a little more and review a fundamental attitude in the United States foreign policy toward countries like Iran. Almost since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, this basic question has been posed by many Americans as “why do they (Iranians) hate us?” This question has been not only posed to Iranians, but also to other Muslims and they have also asked it from themselves. This question was even asked more following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and again in the face of violent developments in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the Americans never came up with a worthwhile and correct answer to this question and they will have to continue to ask that question for a long time to come. I believe that if the current differences and state of affairs between Iran and the United States continue in this manner, they will have to ask this question once more. Now, this is the main point in this article which aims to see how the Islamic Revolution will have the capability and opportunity to keep Iranian people in line with its policies and turn the sharp edge of their criticism and objections toward the United States?
As said before, it would be enough for the government to sell around one million barrels per day of crude oil in order to be able to implement an economic austerity plan. Most probably, many people will lose their jobs in the first few months, but the situation will then reach a new balance: the government will cease its exuberant spending and will have to spend the available cash in a more rational manner. Meanwhile, resources allocated to nonproductive jobs, which were encouraged in the past years as temporary remedies to unemployment, will be reallocated and both the society and the government will have to reckon more on resources allocated to productive employment. In the same way, due to economic pressures, the people will go for a less extravagant way of living and will choose a simpler lifestyle. As a result of sanctions, however, the situation of a large part of people, who are poor or are workers earning low wages, will tend toward more gravity, but the government will be then able to pay more attention to them. The important point here is to have a suitable large-scale strategy for the management of such conditions in the long run. This is why a large part of social criticism these days is aimed at the government’s mismanagement. Whether this is right or wrong, the government should spend more energy on large-scale management of the society and prepare it for economic measures that will be taken in the next stage of the austerity plan.
The Iranian government has also a few other opportunities to head off the untoward effects of sanctions. During the forthcoming presidential election, the Islamic establishment will have a chance to encourage people’s maximum turnout. In that case, the next government will be the most popular government in Iran because no government can survive without a big mandate from the nation. As a result, taking advantage of national fervor of the Iranian people is a weapon which can prove its effects one more time by thwarting the impact of sanctions. Richard Cottam was to the point when he said that Iranians have a national weapon which they can take good advantage of in time of danger to counteract any threat: nationalism.
Apart from the forthcoming presidential polls, the Islamic establishment should try to appear more active in its foreign and regional policies. This does not mean that formalities should be increased anymore. The increased activity, however, should focus on implementing important military and strategic plans. This means, instead of allowing them to design a game for us, we must design important games for the Western countries and their regional allies in parallel to escalation of sanctions. At any rate, we must be able to increase the cost of sanctions policy for the West. The West’s lackeys in the region may not cooperate with the Islamic Republic in this regard. However, the masses as well as the Islamic groups which created the recent important developments in the region and brought about the wave of awakening through the Islamic world can help the Islamic Republic to fight sanctions and play important roles in strategic plans of the Islamic Republic. Today, even talking about promotion of democracy can endanger many allies of the West in the region. Therefore, becoming more active as a regional political player can be considered an important component of any plan for resistance against the Western sanctions.
There is one interesting lesson which can be learned from this: the Islamic Republic is known as a political system arising from a popular revolution against a puppet regime and a lackey of the United States. Many people across the world actually believe that the Iranian revolution was against the United States and its extensive influence. The Iranian revolution was basically a slap in Washington’s face and a hard answer to the US-sponsored coup d’état of August 19, 1953, which aimed to remind the United States that by sponsoring that coup, it actually lost the trust of the Iranian people forever. Will the Islamic Republic of Iran actually succeed in exercising a more efficient management in economic areas in addition to taking new and more awe-inspiring initiative at regional level, and encouraging maximum participation of its people in political process in order to both guarantee its legitimacy and show off its high capacity to counteract the US-engineered sanctions? The answer to and result of this question can act like a double-edged sword. The cutting edge of this issue for the Islamic Republic and all other popular governments in the region is that the United States may succeed in weakening the Iranian government after its own presidential elections are over, and once more, score another victory in the face of the regional nations through its old “gunboat diplomacy” (this time, of course, in the form of sanctions). Following the US-sponsored coup d’état of August 19, 1953, the US efforts aimed at aborting the Iranian nation’s oil industry nationalization movement provided necessary impetus for the Islamic Revolution of 1979. During the 25-year period between the US-sponsored coup and the Islamic Revolution, Iranian people always awaited an opportunity to take their revenge on the United States and the West in general. That revolutionary capital has been the most important asset of the Islamic Republic to attract the regional people and succeed in its regional policies. Will the Islamic establishment be able to bring this important and historical achievement of the Iranian nation to life again and show off its ‘popular nature’ in the face of foreign powers one more time? If the Islamic Republic succeeded in doing this, it would logically follow that the United States would further lose face with the Iranian people, and the Americans will have to continue asking themselves, “Why they (Iranians) do hate us so much?”
Just in the same way that the Islamic Republic has an opportunity not to lose people’s support, the United States will have an opportunity not to be hated more by the Iranian people. If the Americans are pushing ahead with these sanctions on the basis of internal expediencies and want to keep them until presidential polls, it would be better for them to give them up then. This will help them not to buy more of the Iranian people’s hatred and have a chance to exercise better policies toward Iran. At any rate and in view of the aforesaid facts, sanctions can be easily coped with and it only needs a show of goodwill from the United States and the West in order to allow the Iranian nation avail itself of opportunities to boost its welfare status. Otherwise, the Iranian nation will blame the United States for the bitterness they are experiencing as a result of sanctions and, once more, opposition to the United States will become the symbol of any national uprising and movement of the Iranian nation.
Dr. Cyrus Faizee
Expert on Middle East & US Affairs