The last we heard about the rate of Iran’s currency, the rial, its plunge was slowing down after a 40 percent decline in its value last week. That was on Monday. Yesterday, the rate was blacked out. Naturally, everyone suspects sanctions that have been imposed on Iran by the U.S. and the European Union (EU) are to blame for this. Or credit for this, if the ensuing unrest builds up to a certain point, which could benefit others.
Over the last year, the rial has lost 80 percent of its value against the U.S. greenback. The regime blames foreign governments, naturally, but the above Los Angeles Times article suggests Iranian citizens are smart enough to blame the regime for isolating the country, and aren’t particularly impressed with promises of uranium enrichment. Tensions are especially high in the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, where some vendors have refused to sell at all until the rial stabilizes. Clashes between them and Iranian riot police were quick to happen.
If you’ve read my Iran columns before, you know I’m not fond of sanctions as a deterrent from further nuclear development. Comments from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei show they’re not about to give up, despite the economic effects of isolationism on their citizens, and the security risk to the entire country from giving Israel reasons to consider a pre-emptive strike. (I still think such a strike would be confined to nuclear facilities; however, it’s still a risk.)
Sanctions themselves won’t get the Iranian regime to stop believing in their current path. But they could spark enough of an uprising to distract them from it. It could be that this is what the West has been counting on, without saying so. We saw in 2009 that Iran isn’t the kind of country that respects popular dissent. Only unlike Syria, given Iran’s geographic distance from Israel, nobody would be afraid to intervene – except for their own economic reasons at home.
If this goes according to plan, it could be a boon to President Obama’s foreign policy record, especially if the U.S. picks some trustworthy rebels to support, with the hope that they’d be the face of regime change. In fact, I’ve always harbored a belief that he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been agreeing on something like this all along and have pretended to be dismissive of each other to keep up appearances. But that might be reading too deeply into things.
So, here’s what’s left to do: 1. Elevate sanction pressure by blocking exports to Russia and China, if that’s possible. 2. Wage a propaganda campaign reminding Iranians who’s really at fault, just in case. 3. Identify the aforementioned “trustworthy rebels.” And by “trustworthy,” I mean pro-Western, pro-engagement and pro-democracy.