Last week, pursuant to Zarif’s rushed and surprise dash to the G7 summit, French president’s statements later, and the commentary from both Presidents Rouhani and Trump towards a meeting between the two, a large segment of Iranians, mostly living in Iran but also some abroad, breathed a sigh of relief at the prospect of a potential breakthrough in the current hopeless and painful standoff in the US-Iranian crisis.
Some of my acquaintance went as far as imagining direct Iran Air flights between Iran and US once the sanctions are lifted. This is of course stuff of fantasy but goes to show how desperate and hope deprived the common pool of Iranians are that a glimmer of hope of a breakthrough sends their imaginations soaring to unimaginable heights. Needless to say how over the past 40 years and specifically in the last few years, this standoff has devastatingly impacted many Iranians living inside Iran as well as abroad on so many levels.
The euphoria however only lasted for a few hours until comments from Rouhani put an end to all speculations.
If you take the emotion and partisanship out of the equation though, it’s hard to imagine any positive breakthrough until at least after the US election next year.
Here are a few reasons:
The perceived upper hand factor:The Regime somehow thinks it has gained the upper hand or at least has nothing more to lose. The economy’s downward spiral is somehow stalled. There’s no consequential public discourse. There’s no impactful and mob-inspiring opposition. And the latest drone downing escapades, tanker cold war, and other episodes, have raised their confidence that a serious military threat is, at least imminently, not an option. People may have several reasons to the contrary and the oil sanctions will finally take their toll, but this, at least for now, seems to be their state of mind.
An existential threat:One of the most common negative Iranian character traits is not being able to get over a grudge. We sanctify grudges and make it extremely personal and emotional to the point that fighting and maintaining it becomes an existential threat long after the initial animosities behind the conflict die away. We simply do not know how to resolve a conflict without paying a significant and unnecessary personal cost. Take the revolution for example. Folks, right or wrong, had a grudge against the Imperial regime. They went as far as turning what was a developing nation into ruins. Take Iran-Iraq war. Yet another example of devastating toll we paid for an 8-year war that could have been wrapped up somewhat in our favor in the second or third year were the initial Iraqi advances were pushed back. The situation with US has become a similar impasse for the regime. It has been let to grow into something that resolving it will face the regime with a tremendous existential threat that they will have to do something exceptional to survive. In my opinion, they will drag this to a point that the entire country and the nation will face an apocalyptic faith, and then at that last point they will concede and spin themselves as selfless heroes to survive the aftermath. At that point, general Iranian public will just be happy that it’s over and no one will have the energy or motive to ask them the difficult questions. Not at least for a decade or so.
Rightly and wrongly (and there are arguments for both), I believe the regime is banking on president Trump not to get reelected. In such event, it is likely that the pursuant administration will be headed by a left leaning president such as Sanders or Warren and they think in due course, they can potentially get a much better deal than negotiating with Trump.
What could change it all?
There are two gigantic elephants in the room. One is when and how the oil sanctions will take their toll and more importantly how the general Iranian public will react. A massive internal unrest will be a game-changer forcing the regime to bite the bullet or pack the bags.
The second is Trump reelection. In such event, four more years of the same will become more of an existential threat that having to shake hands with the great Satan and will probably lead into an entente.
Whatever the case, I personally hope for a resolution that will have the best results for the people of Iran. They have needlessly suffered enough.