During his presidency, George H.W. Bush stated that his relations with the Islamic Republic would be governed by the principle of “goodwill begets goodwill,” one that he sought to employ in backchannel negotiations for the release of American hostages. Similar policies were pursued by his successors from both parties, all to no avail. Amir Taheri explains why:
If you help the Islamic Republic improve its economy, the bulk of the proceeds will go to strengthening the apparatus of repression, with the people receiving mere crumbs to keep their mouths shut. At the same time, regime propaganda will spread the tale that it was thanks to its “revolutionary ardor” that the evil foreigners had to offer a few concessions. The “arrogant powers” were retreating under the blows of the new rising power of Islam destined to conquer the whole world.
Worse still, regime propaganda would claim that what the “evil foreigner” was offering presented only a fraction of what he had stolen from the Islamic Republic and that greater struggle against the enemy would force him to offer even more concessions.
Well, if offering help is useless what about doing harm as a means of changing the situation? That, too, wouldn’t work.
Pinprick attacks are easily ducked and any damage they might do is directed away from the regime toward the people. After all, the eight-year war with Iraq didn’t shake the regime but claimed over a million lives, wrecked four Iranian provinces, and produced 3.5 million displaced persons. In April 1988, the U.S. Navy sank the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy after an eighteen-hour sea battle in which the latter played sitting ducks. But that didn’t prevent the regime from claiming it had won the greatest naval victory in Iran’s history and driven the Americans out of “sacred Islamic waters.”