The Iranian Revolution: What Trump must do next

Michael Ledeen,
The demonstrations against the failed Iranian regime have produced a massive breakdown in the country’s banking security—the most devastating in the country’s history. According to the New York Times,

As of Tuesday, details of 15 million bank debit cards in Iran had been published on social media in the aftermath of the protests, unnerving customers and forcing the government to acknowledge a problem. The exposure represented the most serious banking security breach in Iran, according to Iranian media and a law firm representing some of the victims.

This is a very big deal. After burning down hundreds of bank branches, the anti-regime demonstrators have now released the secrets of nearly twenty percent of the country’s population. Although expert analysts suspect a breach of such magnitude was likely the handiwork of a hostile nation state—the United States and Israel being the prime suspects—there is no hard evidence, and neither suspect has anything to say.

There is a possibility that Jerusalem and Washington worked together to maximize the pressure on Tehran. Both countries have penetrated Iran’s computerized systems in the past, and both are believed to have working relations with Iranians hostile to the regime. In a moment such as the present, with anti-regime demonstrations erupting all over the country, it would make sense to expose the accounts of the small fraction of the population with substantial bank balances.

If that is true, then the penetration of the Iranian banking system fits nicely with the objective of bringing maximum pressure to bear on the regime’s most loyal subjects. The prime targets are well known to the Israelis and the Americans, and have been sanctioned in the past.

The banks affected — Mellat, Tejarat and Sarmayeh — had all been sanctioned more than a year ago by the United States Treasury, which accused them of having transferred money on behalf of blacklisted entities of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, part of the armed forces. The entire Revolutionary Guards organization was designated as a terrorist group by the Trump administration last April.

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Thus, the United States may have entered the fray against Iran, directly sabotaging the Persian banking system. The Trump Administration may have reasoned that a collapse of the economy will galvanize the Iranian people into action, and produce regime change. As we read in Telos:

In 2009, the Green Revolution was brutally suppressed by the Khamenei regime, but Iranians communicated a significant twofold message: the regime was unpopular across regions and classes, and it was not indestructible. Those months of uprisings made clear the antagonistic relationship between the regime and the civil society as well as the fundamentally distinct political objectives of each side. While the police camp remained steadfastly committed to the elites of the Islamic Republic, the society at large grew increasingly convinced that the regime was unreformable. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before popular dissent would resurface across the country, including in Persian-majority regions.

 The Iranian Revolution What Trump must do next

This is the vision I believe the president brings to the Iranian crisis. It is of a piece with his overall strategy of making things hot for our enemies, while offering them a chance to work things out at the negotiating table.

Now Trump undeniably has numerous foreign policy successes—and he deserves much credit for them. Most recently, his trade deal with China and the new U.S.A.-Canada-Mexico deal are praiseworthy achievements and decisive steps forward. The U.S. president has shown tenacity, patience and imagination. The triumph of Boris Johnson in the British elections also gives Trump a chance for a really big deal, starting with a bilateral agreement with Great Britain and proceeding to an embrace of an end to toleration of Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies throughout Europe.

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Trump has opportunities galore, and tens of millions of Iranians await his next move.

The key here is that Trump is a dealmaker, not a revolutionary. He is not interested, for instance, in sending our soldiers to the Middle East. He doesn’t seem to be completely invested in actually bringing down the Islamic Republic. He thinks, or acts as if he thinks, that misery will somehow eventually bring the mullahs to heel.

But this may not work. We live in a world in which evading sanctions is an art form, mastered by both the Iranians and our once-loyal European allies. Even the Saudis, as eager as anyone to see the end of the Islamic Republic, are baffled. The regime seems to dominate the situation, no matter how large the demonstrations. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei doesn’t care about suffering Iranians, and he has murdered so many of them that he cannot expect leniency if the Islamic Republic comes down.

It is a revolutionary situation that lacks a revolutionary leader, and the one revolutionary country in the equation is the United States. And so we wait for the day that Donald Trump gets aggressive with the Iranian regime, speaks directly to the tens of millions of Iranians who await his words, and tells it like it is: we will do whatever we can to subvert the regime, and work with any and all Iranians who are ready for a makeover of that poor nation.

But that requires Trump to do what he has never done before, indeed what no American president has done: support a thoroughgoing Iranian revolution.

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