To the surprise of no sentient person, North Korea is dissembling instead of disassembling its nuclear weapons. It is making no move toward denuclearization and instead is finishing the expansion of a key missile manufacturing facility. President Trump’s summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un served only to demonstrate Mr. Kim’s intractability.
Mr. Trump is having much more success with Iran, North Korea’s partner in developing nuclear weapons and missiles. After the president exited the 2015 Obama-Iran deal in May he has taken a hard line by re-imposing economic sanctions on Tehran which are proving effective in weakening Iran’s economy and the ayatollahs’ regime.
Most importantly, for the first time since 2009, large violent protests against the regime are occurring in many of Iran’s big cities, including Tehran.
Unemployment is up, inflation is soaring and the Iranian currency has lost half its value this year. In 2017, the Iranian rial traded at about 43,000:1 against the dollar. It began to weaken leading up to Mr. Trump’s action in May and the rial is now trading at about 75,000:1 against the dollar.
The currency crash is clearly driven by Iranian panic buying of dollars in response to Mr. Trump’s actions. Unlike North Korea, Iran doesn’t have China acting as a sugar daddy to prop up its economy and its regime. The Obama-Iran agreement served to do that by undoing the economic sanctions against Iran and freeing Iran to sell its oil.
Because Iran’s economy is supported primarily by oil sales to South Korea, India, China, Japan and Turkey, the president wants to cut those sales. He plans to slap sanctions on any nation that doesn’t cut off Iranian oil imports by Nov. 4. Mr. Trump reportedly wants to give buyers of Iranian crude time to reduce their imports (which accounts for the delay until November) and may grant temporary waivers of sanctions to nations that make a significant effort to reduce them by that date.
New sanctions against Iranian banks will also begin on Nov. 4. All the economic screws are being tightened and, together, they are strangling the Iranian economy.
According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), international companies that rushed into Iran after the 2015 deal removed the sanctions are now pulling back out of the Iran market.
Iran’s economic problems are growing along with increasingly violent protests which signal more than a loss of confidence in the ayatollahs’ regime. As MEMRI reported, demonstrators are now chanting words such as, “Death to Palestine,” “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon, I will give my life for Iran” and “Death to the Dictator.” The dictator, of course, is Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
Iranians have chanted “Death to America” since the ayatollahs came to power in 1979. (Mr. Khamenei equated that chant to a religious obligation in a March 2005 speech to Iranian students.) The fact that protesters dare to chant “Death to the Dictator” is indicative of the regime’s shrinking power.
On June 25, thousands of protesters resulted in the closing of the Tehran Grand Bazaar for several days. Another violent protest broke out several days later in Khorramshahr, which is southwest of Tehran.
Unlike his predecessor, Mr. Trump is openly supporting Iranian dissidents. The National Council of Resistance of Iran is the largest group of Iranian exiles hostile to the regime. NCRI is an umbrella organization for the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, which is led by Maryam Rajavi. MeK began as a Marxist group and now advocates democracy. It is headquartered in Paris. NCRI holds annual conventions there that attract audiences of several thousand Iranian expatriates. I attended one about 10 years ago.
Last year, the Paris rally was addressed by John Bolton, now the president’s national security adviser. He said that the Tehran regime shouldn’t last until its 40th birthday. On June 30, Rudy Giuliani, one of the president’s legal team, spoke to a huge NCRI Paris rally. Mr. Giuliani told the audience, “The mullahs must go, the ayatollah must go, and they must be replaced by a democratic government which Madam Rajavi represents. Freedom is right around the corner Next year I want to have this convention in Tehran!”
Mr. Bolton and Mr. Giuliani were speaking the president’s mind when they addressed the NCRI rallies. It’s very unlikely that speeches in support of NCRI will result in toppling the ayatollahs’ regime because they are not believed to have widespread following in Iran. More is required of us. Much more.
When 3 million Iranians took to the streets in 2009 in the “Green revolution” against the ayatollahs, President Obama turned his back on them. He rejected the opportunity to stand for freedom and against tyranny. That opportunity has arisen again and this time should not be shunned.
A “Presidential Determination” is a document, usually classified top secret, that authorizes covert action by U.S. intelligence agencies. The president should sign one authorizing significant covert assistance to revolutionaries in Iran, including funding, communications equipment and, at the right moment, arms.
We know that the Tehran regime will never peacefully abandon its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. Sanctions can slowly strangle the Iranian economy but won’t, themselves, free Iranians of the tyranny of the ayatollahs. Helping them do so is in their best interest and ours.
• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”