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Taking on Tehran

Forty years after the revolution that ousted the Shah, Iran’s unique political-religious system and government appears strong enough to withstand US pressure and to ride out the country's current economic difficulties. So how should the US minimize the risks to the region posed by the regime?

NEW YORK – US President Donald Trump’s administration has singled out Iran – even more than Russia, China, or North Korea – with sustained pressure over the past two and a half years. The United States has withdrawn from the 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), designated an arm of Iran’s military (the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) as a foreign terrorist organization, imposed economic sanctions against nearly one thousand individuals and entities, and taken steps to make it extremely difficult for Iran to sell its oil.

US policy is working, in the sense that most countries (including those that disagree with Trump’s policy) have judged it better to maintain trade and investment ties with the US than with Iran. Iran’s oil exports are down sharply, and its economic isolation is real and growing. The economy contracted some 4% in 2018 and is projected to shrink as much as another 6% this year. The currency is plummeting. There are reports of price spikes, shortages of food and medicine, and reduced financial transfers to Hezbollah and various militias central to Iran’s attempts to exert influence around the region.

But if the pressure is clear, its purpose is not. Many in the Trump administration appear to favor regime change. But this is unlikely to happen. Forty years after the revolution that ousted the Shah, Iran’s unique political-religious system and government appears strong enough to withstand US pressure and to ride out the economic difficulties.

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