The assumption is that the more Iranians suffer, the more their leaders will feel the pressure and either change course or be overthrown in a popular uprising. And yet, there is no evidence to suggest that this is probable, and the Iraqi case suggests the opposite. During the U.N. blockade, Saddam was able to blame foreigners for the nation’s suffering, and ordinary Iraqis—those who might have been expected to show discontent at his misrule—grew more and more dependent on the rations he distributed. Furthermore, America’s insistence that an end to sanctions was conditional on Saddam’s departure removed any incentive he might have had to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors. In 1997, he stopped doing so, with the results we all know.
This time, the U.S. is at pains to show that the Islamic Republic will gain a life-saving reprieve if it falls in with U.N. resolutions calling on it to stop enriching uranium. If that happens, Hillary Clinton said in October, sanctions might be “remedied in short order.” But Iran’s supreme leader dismissed her words as a “lie.”
Khamenei and those around him believe that sanctions policy is part of a bigger American project of Iraq-style regime change. There is some logic to this; recent western tactics against Iran include sabotage, assassination and diplomatic isolation—hardly indicative of a desire for detente. The most recent round of nuclear negotiations foundered, in part, on Iran’s growing conviction that the U.S. will make no significant concession on sanctions unless Iran drastically scales down its program of uranium enrichment. That seems unlikely to happen–not simply for reasons of image and prestige, but because, as American hostility sharpens, Iran may judge its nuclear program to be the best defense it has against the fate that befell Saddam.
h/t Trita Parsi