Hubbard’s reporting suggests that Iran can no longer finance civilian projects or credit lines in Syria. Hezbollah fighters and Palestinian militants aren’t being paid, and their families are losing subsidized housing. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has complained publicly about the effects of U.S. sanctions.
Additionally, the U.S. is no longer ignoring Hezbollah’s criminal enterprises, including drug smuggling and money laundering. And Iran’s protest movement has been renewed, mostly because of public fury that the regime spends money on foreign adventures while economic conditions worsen at home. Most importantly, Iran has not used the U.S. withdrawal from the deal to restart its nuclear programs, despite its threats to do so.
Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told me that the sanctions needle now stands at around a 6, but he says, “We need to get to 11.”
With Iran still exporting about 1 million barrels of oil a day, the administration should bring it to zero by refusing to hand out sanctions waivers. Also, The State Department should designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. Dubowitz says that such a designation, would “make the entire Iranian economy radioactive” to foreign investment. since the IRGC is heavily involved in scores of Iranian businesses.
The US isn’t to trying to punish Iran for punishment’s sake, but to create leverage for a better nuclear deal. Mike Pompeo set a dozen parameters for an agreement, including “unqualified access” to U.N. nuclear inspectors, permanent cessation of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing, the end of Iran’s ballistic-missile program, withdrawal of its forces from Syria, and the release of U.S. nationals held in its prisons. Most of these demands have been alternatively dismissed as silly or reckless by most of Washington’s foreign policy establishment.
The Iranian regime is hardly a giant on the world stage, immune to any form of economic pressure. In fact, Iran’s gross domestic product is roughly equivalent to that of the greater Boston area, with 17 times the population. The regime may be a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East, but the Trump administration has raised the costs for Iran’s behavior, at no cost to the United States or our allies.