The Washington Post:

By Jason Rezaian

Iranian tankers sailed into Venezuelan waters this week, raising alarm among hawks in Washington who cite the news as evidence that Caracas and Tehran are partners in a nefarious alliance threatening security in the Western Hemisphere.

The reality is more mundane — and far less frightening.

The governments in both Tehran and Caracas are repressive and incompetent. Neither serves the interests of its citizens. But U.S. efforts to effect regime change through what it calls “maximum pressure” — harsh sanctions and other forms of economic pressure — have so far had little impact on either government’s policies.

Even though it has plenty of oil, the Maduro government’s mismanagement has left it desperately poor in gasoline. Iran, which has more refining capacity, has gasoline to sell. Both governments are more than willing to cooperate in defiance of U.S. threats.

“The Venezuelan oil industry is on its last legs,” Venezuelan journalist (and Post contributor) Francisco Toro told me. “It’s been hollowed out in every way. It can’t produce gasoline.” He called the gasoline purchase “the ultimate Band-Aid on an amputated limb.”

But the Iranians showed up and the Venezuelans took delivery. By showing that they were able to trade to mutual benefit, these hobbled states not only successfully circumvented U.S. sanctions; they also scored public relations points in the process.

“My sense is that, even if they don’t celebrate it publicly, most people here are happy for anything that alleviates the fuel shortage,” Phil Gunson, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, told me from Caracas (though he conceded that it’s hard to measure public opinion in Venezuela).

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the socialist Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela are states based on failed ideas that put the desires of corrupt officials ahead of their people’s needs. Neither has ever been less popular that it is at this very moment.

Yet Washington’s current approach to both seems to be strengthening their hold on power. The maximum pressure strategy is doing nothing to enable the aspirations of Iranians or Venezuelans; instead, it’s just depriving them of resources. Meanwhile, leaders in Tehran and Caracas show no signs of bending to external pressure or the desires of their populations.

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