China: the great hope

Plan for siege warfare

Resting hopes on a Biden victory in November’s election stems from sheer desperation, writes Yassamine Mather

On September 28 the Bloomberg website published details of the Trump administration’s fresh sanctions plans, plans designed to cut ties between Iran’s economy and the outside world (with very few exceptions). Crucially, more than a dozen banks will be subject to sanctions and the country’s entire financial sector labelled off-limits.

Of course, Iran’s economy is already crushed, partly because of the loss of oil sales and partly because of the inability to import vital equipment, medicines and other supplies - all this thanks to existing American sanctions. However, these latest measures will isolate it completely from the global financial system, the few remaining legal links to global trade will vanish and the country’s economy will become dependent on informal or illegal routes. The US administration and its Iranian regime change allies hope this will bring down the Islamic Republic before January 2021, irrespective of who is elected to the White House.

The new measures are directly related to the US presidential elections. Joe Biden for the Democrats has committed to re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), provided Iran also returns to compliance, should he win in November. According to Biden, the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” has failed. Of course, there will be many obstacles to such a plan. In Iran conservative hardliners dominate the new majles (parliament) and, given the endless disappointments with the ‘reformist’ faction, it is very likely that the next Iranian president to be elected in 2021 will be from the conservative wing of the regime, which is opposed to any deal with the United States. Or the country could be ruled by one of the commanders of the Revolutionary Guards, wanting to ‘save the nation from an impending disaster’.

In addition, even if Biden is serious about returning the US to the JCPOA, he will have a very short window between January 2021 and May/June 2021, when the presidency of Hassan Rouhani comes to an end. But this has not stopped Iran’s ‘reformists’ from expressing enthusiasm for a Biden presidency. After all, it is clear that the new sanctions proposed by the Trump administration are aimed at closing down one of the few remaining financial loopholes allowing Iran’s government to earn revenue. In Trumps’ view, that will precipitate regime change and therefore undermine Biden’s plans in relation to JCPOA, even if he wins.

Many are claiming that the new sanctions plan was initially promoted by Mark Dubowitz , the chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. It looks like it has the support of rightwing Republican senators. In late September, a group of 57 members of Congress issued a joint letter backing Trump’s proposals: “Iran’s desperate economic circumstances provide a critical opportunity for the United States to force the regime to abandon its malign activities and return to the negotiating table on your terms,” Iranian groups financed by the many ‘human rights’ organisations and ‘research institutions’ associated with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies must be really proud of themselves.

According to Bloomberg,

Under the plan, the administration would designate the Iranian financial sector under executive order 13902, which Trump signed in January to clamp down on mining, construction and other industries. That would not only affect banks, but also remittance processors, money-changers and the informal transfer system used frequently in the Muslim world known as hawala.

Then the administration would blacklist roughly 14 banks in Iran that have so far escaped some US restrictions, under authorities designed to punish entities associated with terrorism, ballistic-missile development and human-rights abuses.1

Of course, it is not clear if or how Iran can continue trade with countries such as China and Venezuela. It is already engaged in barter deals with Venezuela and, as I wrote a few weeks ago, Islamic Republic leaders are waiting to see what happens in Washington before committing themselves to the Iran-China 25-year comprehensive partnership deal”.2

The new plan was announced soon after the Trump administration lost the vote in the United Nations security council, when it tried to impose ‘snapback’ sanctions against Iran on August 14.3 These would have extended certain arms restrictions on Iran that are scheduled to be lifted as a consequence of JCPOA. Only one country, the Dominican Republic, voted in favour of the US motion. China and Russia voted against and the other 11 countries, including France, Germany and the UK, abstained.


Many have pointed out that US interventions in other countries’ affairs have reduced under Trump; that, in keeping his promise to “make America great again”, he has wound down military interventions abroad. There is some truth in this. After all, he is withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. However ridiculous it might be, Trump wants the peace deal currently being negotiated with the Taliban, and he is pulling troops out from Iraq and Syria. Former Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were far more interventionist. However, when it comes to Iran, you cannot say Trump has not been interventionist.

Trump’s rhetoric is arrogant, bullying and hectoring, but hardly consistent. To the dismay of his allies in the disparate rightwing Iranian opposition, one day he wants war, the next he wants negotiations and a handshake with Rouhani and the day after he wants regime change through sanctions. But hardly a day goes by when he does not mention Iran.

We should also remember the fundamental differences with Obama’s sanctions, which had a clearly declared aim: to force Iran to stop its nuclear development programme. In that respect the Obama administration was seeking support from European and international allies. Trump came to office boasting of his aim to achieve regime change in Iran. His close allies, at the time, Steve Bannon and John Bolton, were determined to take revenge for the 1979 revolution, the humiliations of the US embassy hostage taking and the bombing of the US barracks in Beirut in 1983. This policy has not achieved much - except the impoverishment of the overwhelming majority of ordinary Iranians and the strengthening of the financial and therefore political power of factions of the Islamic regime.

Sanctions imposed since Trump took office have seen the Islamic Republic’s currency fall to its lowest value ever. It now trades at 300,000 rials to a single American dollar. That is down by a third since its previous all-time low in June and by more than 12% down since only mid-September. In 2015, following the nuclear deal, Iran’s currency was valued at 32,000 rials to the dollar. Washington’s crippling sanctions, as well as Iran’s endemic corruption and mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, have precipitated an economic collapse.

For all the bellicose demands and moves, even John Bolton (former director of Trump’s national security council) admits the administration’s “maximum pressure” has failed to change Iran’s attitude or bring forward regime change. Of course, let us not forget that Iran’s most conservative elements have always preferred making deals with rightwing Republican administrations. In 1980 the US embassy hostages were released after secret negotiations with presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. Iran’s Islamic clerics wanted him to defeat the incumbent Democratic, Jimmy Carter.

This week happens to be the anniversary of the first leaks in 1986 of the cover-up of the scandal that became known as the Iran Contra affair. This occurred when a US citizen, Eugene Hasenfus, was captured by Nicaraguan troops after the plane in which he was flying was shot down. He was part of a complicated deal involving shipping military supplies to the anti-Sandinista Contras, who were funded and run by the CIA.

The deal - conjured up by Reagan national security staffer Oliver North and CIA director William Casey - was complicated. Israel would sell weapons received from the US to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages held by Hezbollah, Iran’s ally, in Lebanon.

However, North and Casey then decided to use the profits from these arms sales in yet another illegal project – sending arms to the Contras. So the ‘anti-imperialist’ Islamic Republic of Iran was indirectly funding a CIA-backed outfit in Nicaragua.

Vote Biden?

Very few Arab or Muslim Americans will have either forgotten or forgiven Trump’s racist language. And his administration has banned travel from a number of Muslim countries, which stopped family visits for many Arab/Iranian Americans. The Democratic Party claims it will repeal Trump’s “Muslim ban”, end support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, prioritise a return to nuclear diplomacy with Iran and shut down the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

However there is no mention of Israel or the plight of the Palestinians living under occupation. That is why a coalition of Muslim delegates to the Democratic National Committee submitted a statement on July 20: “As Democrats, we seek a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated by the parties that guarantees equality, security and democracy for all,” reads the draft. “No matter what the final resolution regarding states and borders, Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve peace, equal rights, dignity and security.” But most Americans who identify as Democrats, including Muslim/Arab Americans, are well aware of the party’s unwavering support for Zionism and the US-Israel ‘special relationship’.

By nominating Kamala Harris as his deputy, Biden has underlined his pro-Israel credentials. The Times of Israel welcomed the choice of someone who believes in “aid to the Jewish state”. But, to the consternation of the Israel lobby, things are changing. The notion of unwavering support for Israel amongst most Democratic voters no longer carries. Young people in particular see the Palestinians as victims of an illegal Israeli occupation, supported by the US.

According to Inside Arabia,

An open letter signed by more than 100 progressive, anti-war, and faith-based US organisations calls upon Biden to “adopt a principled foreign policy towards Israel and the Palestinian people based on justice, freedom, equality, and human dignity”.

It also reminds Biden that a “majority of American voters, including many Jewish voters, young voters, and voters of colour” are looking for a dramatic change to the way in which the US provides Israel with tacit support for its criminal settler-colonial enterprise, veto protection from United Nations enforcement of resolutions in the security council, and a no-strings-attached military aid package.4

As for The New York Times, it states:

Once, Democratic legislators had to worry about appearing unsupportive of Israel; today some of them - especially those who need to be re-elected by liberal voters - seem to have the opposite concern: they do not want to be seen as too supportive.5

Now we have one of the most reactionary and dangerous alliances - the ‘deal of the century’ drawn up by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. If Trump is re-elected, they will continue to work together to the benefit of Israel, while continuing to impose misery on the Palestinians, not to mention the peoples of Iran. However, that is no reason to opt for Biden-Harris as the lesser evil. Evil is still evil.

  1. bloombergquint.com/politics/trump-team-weighs-tough-new-sanctions-on-iran-s-financial.↩︎

  2. ‘Boost to Beijing’s ambitions’ Weekly Worker August 6.↩︎

  3. “In July 2015, the UN security council unanimously endorsed the ... JCPOA by passing resolution 2231. According to the resolution’s article 11, a ‘participant state’ in the nuclear deal can, on the basis of ‘significant non-performance’ by one of the agreement’s other parties, initiate the restoration (or ‘snapback’) of six security council resolutions enacted against Iran between 2006 and 2010 that were terminated under 2231. Snapback would nullify an approaching sunset on restrictions on Iranian arms purchases and exports; strengthen strictures on Iran’s ballistic missile activity; and require Iran to suspend nuclear enrichment, among other measures. Under the terms of resolution 2231, if the council has not passed a new resolution confirming the continuation of the sanctions terminations after 30 days, the sanctions immediately come back into force” (crisisgroup.org/global/behind-snapback-debate-un).↩︎

  4. insidearabia.com/for-joe-biden-muslims-lives-matter-palestinians-not-as-much.↩︎

  5. nytimes.com/2016/06/10/opinion/israels-problem-with-the-democratic-party.html.↩︎