While it has been the abstract goal of every US president since Carter to reverse the tide that is the Islamic Revolution in Iran, no US leader has launched a traditional war against a former ally turned adversary forty years ago this year.
Due to Donald Trump’s close relationship with the virulently anti-Iranian Benjamin Netanyahu and likewise due to the overbearing presence of anti-Iranian hawkish elements in the White House including National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, many had assumed that a major regime change war on Iran was a matter of “when” rather than “if”.
Yesterday however, Donald Trump confirmed that it is not even a matter of “if” when he stated that regime change is not the goal of the economy and diplomatic campaign against Iran. Trump further elaborated, stating “we’ll make a deal” – a reference to the fact that Trump seeks a new nuclear deal with Iran to replace the Obama era JCPOA that Trump has withdrawn from.
There is a clear reason why Trump does not want regime change in Iran and it has nothing to do with Trump having a soft spot for the Islamic Revolution. The clear modus operandi of the Trump administration is not military engagement but economic warfare. This economic warfare has been launched against traditional “enemies” (Russia, Iran, DPRK, Venezuela), “rivals” (China) and even allies (Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, European Union).
In a surrealistic inversion of Melian Dialogue, for the Trump White House, the economic war strategy is to “do against our allies as much as we can get away with and do against our enemies all that is possible”. Thus, the main reason that Trump does not want regime change in Iran is because one cannot sanction or tariff a country whose fledgling new regime would owe its existence to America.
In other words, if for example the Iranian Monarchists who run a kind of shadow Iranian regime from the comforts of Los Angeles were to be installed in Tehran after a would-be overthrow of the Islamic Revolution, this would be one more country that the US would have to play nice with economically.
For Trump, playing nice economically is not the means on which to build a friendship but the result of a long period of strained relations. For Trump, economic relations a something akin to Dante’s Divine Comedy in which one needs to go through hell (“Little Rocket Man will be destroyed) and purgatory (“the toughest sanctions ever”) before one can finally get to paradise which in reality means a restoration of something approximating normal or near normal trading relations.
Because of this, Trump counter intuitively prefers dealing with countries that are unabashed enemies of the United States because it means there is little internal pressure to rapidly strike a deal which would result in economic normalcy. On this sliding scale, Iran is firmly on the far reaches of the “enemy” side. China is in the middle because while much of the US military-industrial complex resents China, the US private sector is incredibly reliant on China. Finally, when it comes to countries like Canada, Mexico and those in the EU, there is a great deal of pressure on Trump to make economic deals and this is pressure that Trump clearly does not enjoy, not least since he uses the language of economic warfare against entities like the EU that is sometimes even stronger than that deployed against China.
Thus, in an age of dishonesty being the rule rather than the exception, Donald Trump’s remarks about Iran are actually refreshingly honest – albeit not for the reasons that one might assume.