One thing the virus hasn’t changed: Iran and the U.S. still hate each other (

On Wednesday, President Trump dramatically raised the prospect of conflict, tweeting that he had “instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”

Predictably, on Thursday, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said that any U.S. moves that endanger Iranian vessels “will be met with an immediate and decisive response.”

The tit-for-tat bluster followed reports of Iranian vessels “that repeatedly conducted dangerous and harassing approaches” to six American warships in the Persian Gulf on April 15, according to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. Iran also announced this week that it had launched its first military satellite into orbit.

The Iranian leadership’s continued fixation on tormenting the United States — despite a faltering economy, a disaffected population and a public-health nightmare — is striking. Even so, Tehran’s stubbornness shows why the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, designed to alter Iran’s behaviors and supposedly compel Iran back to the negotiating table, is failing.

By its own logic, the Trump administration’s sanctions policy has achieved success by inflicting so much damage on the Iranian economy that the leaders in Tehran now believe their only choice is to reopen the country and loosen social distancing restrictions.

Yet the president and his aides constantly claim that they have the better interests of the Iranian people at heart. How does that square with boasting about making life worse for ordinary Iranians? And how is that supposed to serve the professed goal of compelling the Iranian government to be more accountable to its people?

As the covid-19 pandemic is demonstrating, though, neither Tehran nor Washington really cares about the health and well-being of the Iranian people. The recent actions of the two governments merely illustrate the point.

Surely the gravest humanitarian crisis in recent memory offers a chance to put regional security disputes on the back burner and seek common ground. Instead, however, the pandemic has become another ideological front line in the decades-long war of ideas between Washington and Tehran.

International aid organizations, many of our allies and a distinguished group of former U.S. officials have all argued for loosening sanctions or providing Iran with funding for medical needs. The Trump administration is having none of it.

“Iran’s slick foreign influence campaign to obtain sanctions relief is not intended for the relief or health of the Iranian people but to raise funds for its terror operations,” claimed a State Department report, titled “Iran’s Sanctions Relief Scam,” published earlier this month.

Instead of heeding the recommendations of experts, other governments and Iranian civil society activists, the Trump administration is actually implementing new sanctions against Iran in an attempt to hasten the demise of the clerical establishment.

But to what end? All indications point to a weakening of Iran’s civilian government in favor of a more militarized state — one that seems almost eager for confrontation with the United States.

Iran is seeking much-needed financial aid from other countries and the international community, including a $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund that the United States has, so far, succeeded in blocking. The U.S. government, meanwhile, contends it has made numerous no-strings-attached offers of aid to Iran that Tehran has refused. If the U.S. government has indeed done so, it has yet to clarify in what form that aid would come or through what channels.

The United States’ attempts to isolate Iran even further will not destroy the Islamic republic. Instead, the weakening of the country’s social fabric, the erosion of civil society, and the destruction of countless livelihoods are boosting the worst elements of the regime. This moment favors the most retrograde and extreme figures in the Iranian political establishment.

Tehran and Washington seem to be locked into the same stubborn and vengeful stance that they have maintained for the past 40 years. Neither government is willing to negotiate in good faith. Both view the dire effects of their policies on ordinary Iranians as collateral damage.

Current circumstances demand a new approach. Yet neither government appears willing to change its ways. Until one of them does, Iranians will be the losers.

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