As Iran Heads toward a Political and Economic Crisis, the Biden Administration Plans to Offer It a Lifeline

April 4, 2022 | Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh
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Although two senior officials have reportedly resigned due to their objections to the White House’s lack of firmness in its nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, a deal remains very possibly imminent. The ayatollahs, for their part, are dealing with the severe effects of having mismanaged their economy for decades, poorly handling the coronavirus pandemic, and U.S.-led sanctions—all of which have led to widespread dissatisfaction with their rule. The nuclear agreement, write Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh, might give them a short-term way out of their troubles:

[T]he mullahs need a nuclear deal to give them relief from a predicament of their own making. As surely as détente prolonged the life of the Soviet Union, the West’s addiction to arms control is the theocracy’s own form of salvation. Contrary to what many observers have suggested, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the muscle behind the theocracy, supported Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), because it brought so much cash with less-than-onerous inspections, sunsetting nuclear restrictions, no restraints on the IRGC’s foreign machinations, and no limitations on the country’s ballistic-missile program, which is under the IRGC’s control. By yielding little to, and getting much from, the Biden administration in the ongoing negotiations in Vienna, the clerical regime is trying again to have both guns and butter.

There is no social class that hasn’t registered its opposition to the clerical regime by taking to the streets. Teachers, farmers, laborers, university students, and even retirees have voiced their grievances, some displaying the bravery to face down, and occasionally force the retreat of, the regime’s security services. . . . The class resentment that the mullahs relied on to keep order is gradually yielding to a sense of solidarity across large swaths of Iranian society.

In the debris of the Russian assault on Ukraine, there are stark historical lessons. Rash ideologues cannot be dissuaded by diplomatic resets and commercial entreaties. Their calculus often defies American officials too invested in their balance sheets and bottom lines. Another lesson: a Russia that possesses nuclear weapons can undertake blatant aggression without fear that its territory will be molested. An Islamist regime that has its own designs on the Middle East understands that nuclear deterrence works.

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