It’s been more than a week since the Secretary of State Pompeo got in front of many enthusiastic Iranians in LA and delivered a much anticipated speech about the IR Regime. Almost every Iranian site/TV/radio/newspaper outside of Iran covered the event and there were no shortage of opinions. Here are the two main reactions to what Pompeo said.
The pro-Reza Pahlavi monarchists who expected that the speech would mark a countdown to a regime-change by the US were not too pleased that the regime-change was barely mentioned and the responsibility was placed squarely on the Iranians inside Iran. But to keep things positive, they changed the countdown to November 4th when the oil and banking sanctions will go into the high gear.
The other anti-Regime folks were either disappointed because of the lack of specifics, or those who wanted to hear tough talk, war and the disintegration of Iran so that they could oppose Trump, were also disappointed that Pompeo was very gentle in his speech. But they nevertheless oppose the sanctions and don’t believe that the sanctioned Iranians will come to the streets and topple the Regime the way Pompeo wants them.
So what exactly are these sanctions supposed to achieve; Regime change or Regime behavior change in the Region? Let’s see.
If the objective is a regime change and the strategy is sanctions and the heavy lifting is done by the Iranians, then there are several obvious flaws here. A regime change has at least 2 components, toppling the Regime and replacing it with the alternative. Currently, there are no visible alternatives inside or outside of Iran. Reza Pahlavi is maintaining his distance from Trump and is not going in and out of the White House/Pentagon/Langley as Chalabi did back in 2002-3. Maryam Rajavi is not even allowed in the US despite her generosity in the annual Paris gatherings with 4,000 rent-a-crowd.
The toppling of the Regime component requires that the people come to the streets, stay on the streets, endure the Regime’s violence, part of the armed forces joining the people and occupy critical buildings and facilities. At this point, we don’t have any indication that there’s a high likelihood that these events can take place. But things can change in the future.
But changing the Regime’s behavior in the Region seems to be more aligned with the statements and the actions of Mattis, Trump, Putin, BiBi and Bin Salman. Mattis stated again this week that there are no military options on the table. Trump is advocating an Arab NATO (al-NATO!) to stand up to the Regime. Putin is encouraging Sepah to leave Syria and in return be a partner in an oil/gas pipeline from Iran to Europe through Iraq and Syria. (If you buy this, I will sell you a nuclear plant in Bushehr!) BiBi has also met with Putin several times and seems to be onboard, and so is Bin -Salman. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a neocon think-tank aligned with BiBi has been advocating the crippling sanctions strategy for several years now and they seem to have convinced Pompeo.
What we have learned so far is that Trump is not a strategic person. He likes to make decisions quickly and see the results fast. A tight sanctions policy with the Europeans and the Asian partly or fully onboard can significantly reduce the Regime’s oil revenues in short time. That will dramatically cut the Regime’s cash assistance to Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. We saw the similar scenario when the Obama sanctions went into effect and the price of oil dropped to about $40/barrel. All of a sudden there were no assistance to Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba.
So the regime change goes on hold until the Iranians figure out what they want to do. The Iranian economy gets worse and worse. Sepah will dispatch its Reza Zarrab and Babak Zanjanis to sell smuggled oil on the open markets, and the Europeans and the Asians will wait and see what will happen to the US domestic elections and events.