The long arm of Uncle Sam shows his muscles again. By deciding to phase out previous exceptions to Iran's oil import embargo, the Trump administration is forcing the rest of the world to confront the mullah regime in Tehran. The Chinese and Turks can still protest so much – in the end, Washington sits on the longer lever thanks to the paramount importance of the US market and the dollar and will prevail.
Not much will change in the short term. The attempt by Europeans to circumvent the extraterritorial effects of US sanctions on Iran with their own EU payment system is more a symbolic act of despair than an effective wall of defense against the threats from Washington. Any company that pursues business interests in the US or trades in dollars will not face the sanction risk.
In matters of power politics, the law of the strongest is still or again valid. And Trump has no qualms about using it. This does not mean that Iran is an innocent victim of American aggression. Not at all.
Tehran has stuck to the 2015 nuclear agreement, but has rarely missed an opportunity to fuel conflict in the Middle East and beyond. The weakness of the nuclear deal is that it has not been followed up by further negotiations to stabilize the crisis region. Without such a follow-up, however, there can be no lasting relaxation.
However, that does not mean that Washington will be politically successful with its confrontation course. Trump can bring the mullahs to their knees economically. Whether and when this will be followed by the regime change in Tehran, which he obviously hoped for, is another question.
First, the economic war will strengthen the extreme forces in Tehran and radicalize the country. Especially now that Iran is still suffering from the consequences of a flood disaster. The reformers around President Hassan Ruhani are on the defensive or join the front against America.
Trump is taking a high risk with his Middle East policy. The transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem, Israel's recognition of the annexation of the Golan Heights, Netanyahu's open support in the election campaign, the unholy alliance with the Saudi rulers in Riyadh, and now the total confrontation with Teheran are all incendiary devices could cause the political powder keg in the Middle East to explode.
The US sanctions will demand their economic price, they will not contribute to peace.
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