Trump and Biden’s hostility further empowered ultraconservatives in Iran

US and Iranian flags side by side

Ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi won Iran’s presidential election last week. And many critics have accused US president Joe Biden of contributing to this result by failing to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal that Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from in 2018.

Trump’s stance was destructive, but Biden kept it anyway

Representatives of peace group CODEPINK wrote on 25 June:

Biden’s failure to quickly rejoin the deal has left Trump’s policy in place, including the cruel “maximum pressure” sanctions that are destroying Iran’s middle class, throwing millions of people into poverty, and preventing imports of medicine and other essentials, even during a pandemic.

They also stressed:

It was common knowledge that a U.S. failure to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal (known as the JCPOA) before Iran’s June presidential election would help conservative hard-liners to win the election.

They added that “Iran always said it was ready to comply with the agreement as soon as the United States rejoined it”. Indeed, Biden could and should have rejoined the deal immediately. But he didn’t. And once Raisi takes power, US-Iranian relations are likely to become more difficult.

The ultraconservatives that Trump’s hostility empowered 

Raisi won the election amid the lowest turnout since Iran’s revolution in 1979. But this wasn’t just about voter apathy in the context of economic crisis (due largely to Trump’s sanctions). Because the country’s ‘Guardian Council’ had banned any candidate who could actually beat Raisi from competing. State authorities also made mass arrests in the run-up to the election.

This problematic electoral environment was evident in the fact that void votes came in second place, again for the first time since 1979. Raisi’s influential father-in-law prepared the ground for the low participation in the election by stressing that people who didn’t vote “could no longer be regarded as Muslims”.

Raisi was allegedly part of the Iranian state’s mass execution of thousands of political prisoners back in 1988. And this is just part of his record of supporting brutal repression of dissent.

As Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi wrote at Counterpunch, Trump’s “maximum pressure” assault on Iran didn’t just fail to make it to do what he wanted; it also “afforded justification to the state security apparatus to impose more repressive measures against civil society actors”. In short, it only served to empower theocratic elites even more.

Diplomacy is the only path

As the grassroots National Iranian American Council (NIAC) said after the election:

The lesson from the past four years — where an ascendent Iranian movement for moderation and engagement marked by record-breaking voter turnout in successive elections and a landmark diplomatic agreement with the U.S. was snuffed out and replaced with what we have today — is that U.S. coercion and interventions with Iran benefit the most authoritarian elements of the Islamic Republic.

It added that the US must now “seek a break from the disastrous conditions that helped contribute to this result”, stressing:

Only diplomacy can resolve the serious challenges we face with Iran regarding non-proliferation, regional security, and supporting the human rights of Iranians.

Main article image via U.S. Mission / Eric Bridiers (CC BY-ND 2.0)