President Trump shocked many when he announced the U.S. departure from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) two years ago. The unilateral move proved that greater progress could be made by applying direct pressure to Iran and those who do business with them as opposed to infusing them with cash and providing a "patient path" to nuclear proliferation.
The JCPOA had fatal flaws, which Trump has pointed out repeatedly. When the Obama administration penned the deal in 2015, Congress expressed concern about lifting sanctions on a designated state sponsor of terror and the resulting effects on the region as well, according to researchers on foreign policy. For example, it assumed that cash infusions would entice Iran into the global economy and away from the pursuit of nuclear arms and foreign hostility. That approach was ineffective as extremist regimes intent on power grabs are not moderated by cash. Rather, they are emboldened.
Indications from leading opinions on policy in the Middle East identified that the JCPOA also created a path to a nuclear program by 2025 that could produce a bomb in short order when the provisions of the deal expire. At that time, not only would Iran be a few steps away from a nuclear weapon with ballistic missiles capable of delivering it, but they would also have a legitimate military force equipped with foreign weapons and become immune to economic sanctions according to new research from FDD.
The disentanglement of the U.S. by the Trump administration from the JCPOA empowered it to drain hundreds of billions of dollars from the Iranian treasury as multinational companies preferred the U.S. dollar to the Iranian rial. Despite concerns that the support of key political allies was necessary for the JCPOA withdrawal to work, companies severed ties with the Iran regime when it failed to make financial sense. The market, in other words, drove behavior regardless of political consensus, which placed great strain on the Iranian economy.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a think tank that informs U.S. and Middle Eastern policy information, supports the current administration's willingness to break Washington tradition and label the Islamic Revolutionary Guards-Corps Qud Force (IRGC-QF) as a foreign terrorist organization. The U.S. also campaigned for the United Kingdom and Germany to blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist group with success, as well as blacklisting and sanctioning political officials such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, and Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister. This is in addition to the killing of Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike.
Yet another egregious act at the hands of a hostile Iran government is its humanitarian crisis as reported in recent information from foreign policy think tanks such as FDD. The Iranian people are growing increasingly weary of the hostile regime where peaceful protests are met with heavy-handed violence. As research on foreign policy that is foundational to regional diplomacy suggests, the U.S. should offer tangible support for the Iranian people through the identification of human rights abuses and corruption. The U.S. can also offer humanitarian relief efforts through international non-governmental organizations and should do so as a contingency for any potential agreement.
While the policy implemented two years ago has been working, a recent analysis on U.S. relations in the Middle East states that more can and should be done. Requiring audit and due diligence requirements for companies who do not do direct business with the U.S. could place additional pressure on them when considering doing business with the current Iranian regime. The Trump administration should maintain current sanctions and consider applying additional pressure to Iran's regional trade.
The increased rocket attacks on U.S. forces in the region demonstrate Iran's frustration at recent U.S. policy, which means it is working. Increasing the pressure will force Iran to choose between spiraling economic and political decline and survival at which point a new agreement can be made, which should incorporate humanitarian rights. This will secure the Iranian people, the region, and global citizens.