As protestors take to the streets in Iran, American politicians are seizing the opportunity to undermine Tehran.
Following Iran’s admission over the weekend that the country had accidentally shot down a Ukranian jet as a “disastrous mistake” resulting in the death of 176 people, mostly Iranians, protestors have come out in Iran demanding accountability.
In the days after the US assassination of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, Iran seemed to be united across the political divide in condemnation of what many would have seen as a criminal act, or declaration of war, against the country.
When Iran launched missiles at two US bases in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of its top general, it also mistook the Boeing 737-800 of being an incoming attack.
US political figures, however, have sensed an opportunity to pile on the pain in Iran in particular as details of those on board have emerged.
Three university professors, six medical doctors, three dentists, 29 PhD students and graduates, and 25 master’s students and graduates were among the people that died on the plane.
For many in Iran, the death of these highly educated Iranians is symbolic of the brain drain Iran is experiencing and was compounded by the tragedy of being shot at by one’s government.
US President Donald Trump tweeted in Farsi to the Iranian people following their protests: “I have stood with you since the beginning of my presidency, and my government will continue to stand with you.”
Many, however, may remember that immediately upon becoming president Trump issued a travel ban on Iranians which resulted in a 92 percent drop in the number of visas issued.
Tweeting in English, Trump demanded that Tehran “stop the killing of your great Iranian people”. There have been no reported deaths, but authorities have used tear gas to disperse protestors and claims that live rounds have been used in protests, a claim Tehran has denied.
To the leaders of Iran - DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2020
The US Ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, joined in the regime change chorus on Twitter standing with the “incredibly brave” Iranian people.
The US government’s manipulation of the accidental shooting down of the plane has been quite openly elaborated on by Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
“You can see the Iranian people are standing up and asserting their rights, their aspirations for a better government — a different regime,” Esper said
Other former and current US administration hawks have piled in with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declaring that “The voice of the Iranian people is clear,” tweeting out footage of protests in Iran.
The voice of the Iranian people is clear. They are fed up with the regime’s lies, corruption, ineptitude, and brutality of the IRGC under @khamenei_ir's kleptocracy. We stand with the Iranian people who deserve a better future. pic.twitter.com/tBOjv9XsIG— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 11, 2020
Attempts at further co-opting the voice of the Iranian people came from the former US national security advisor John Bolton, a hawkish neo-conservative who did not hold back claiming that “regime change is in the air”.
The Khamenei regime has never been under more stress. Regime change is in the air. The people of Iran can see it. America, Europe and France should not try to prop it up or negotiate with its illegitimate representatives.— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) January 12, 2020
A New Yorker journalist noted that the Trump Administration is experiencing “tension between a desire for regime change and the President’s desire to avoid foreign wars.”
A lot of what Trump could do against Iran may also depend on how desperate his political situation becomes internally. An embattled president facing the threat of impeachment and potentially even jail could very well take increasingly dramatic policy choices, including actively fomenting regime change in Iran.
Trump’s preferred policy until recently has been to ratchet up sanctions that have targeted the government and as a result the people, in the hope that such measures would result in the fomenting of internal discontent.
More than a million people came out on the streets of Tehran to bury Soleimani. While there may be growing discontent, the Iranian state has proved to be united on some fronts.
Regime change in Iran, as officials in consecutive US administrations have wanted, if it were to come about through sanctions, would be the first in the history of sanctions.
Given Iran’s military capacity and regional proxies, a military occupation would yield unprecedented consequences for the Trump administration which sought to wind down foreign wars.