For ordinary Iranians, the great promise of the 2015 nuclear deal was economic revival. International sanctions would be lifted, foreign investment would flow and the standard of living, crippled by years of ostracism by the United States and its partners, would rise, allowing Iran to once again flourish.
That hasn’t happened, or at least not the way Iranians expected, thus producing conditions that helped make the recent protests — the most serious since 2009 — possible. Over two weeks, thousands of Iranians in more than 80 cities took to the streets to denounce high unemployment, inflation, corruption and the government’s habit of spending money on foreign wars while cutting programs at home.
As the unrest unfolded, President Donald Trump blamed the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated under President Barack Obama because it required the United States to put millions of dollars back into the hands of a repressive government — money that belonged to Iran but was frozen after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and returned when Iran curbed its nuclear program.
It’s more plausible that by raising expectations for a better life, the deal opened Iranians’ eyes and made them less tolerant when the government fell short.
The deal has had a beneficial effect. The economy grew by 7 percent in 2016 and was expected to do so again in 2017, a far cry from the 9 percent shrinkage in the two years before March 2014, when modest sanctions relief took effect. Oil production is nearly at pre-sanctions levels, foreign companies are making new energy investments and Boeing has received orders for commercial aircraft.
Nevertheless, growth and investment aren’t doing enough to meet the needs of a population mainly too young to remember the Islamic Revolution.
While low oil prices are a big factor in Iran’s failure to rebound, so are corruption, mismanagement, a weak banking system, money laundering, a flawed rule of law and human rights abuses, including arrests of American-Iranian businessmen, that make foreign companies reluctant to do business. The hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and religious institutions, which control much of the economy, are obstructions to reform.
Now that some 22 people have been killed and at least 1,000 detained, the anti-government protests may be petering out without a clear indication of whether they will have a lasting impact. They certainly aren’t the end of the struggle among Iranian hard-liners, determined to maintain rigid Islamic laws that dictate how people should live; moderates like President Hassan Rouhani, who advocate social liberalization and engagement with the West; and now, assuming the protesters stay engaged, an angry working class.
On Monday, Rouhani came to the protesters’ defense, saying they objected not just to a weak economy but also to widespread corruption and the clerical government’s strict policies on personal conduct and freedoms. “One cannot force one’s lifestyle on the future generations,” he said in remarks reported by the semiofficial ISNA news agency.
All this reveals a real struggle for Iran’s future that requires an approach more sophisticated than Trump’s, which would exploit the turmoil to justify reneging on the nuclear deal. That would free Iran to resume nuclear activities and enable new sanctions that would shift Iranian rage from Tehran to Washington.
But Iran’s future is for the Iranians to determine. The United States needs to be cautious about more direct involvement in the country’s politics. America has a troubled history with Iran, including overthrowing the country’s democratically elected leader in 1953. Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Vietnam are haunting reminders of America’s failures at orchestrating change abroad.
The question is how to help Iranians who favor nonviolent change. The United States, with its Western allies, should, of course, advocate the right of Iranians to seek peaceful political change, condemn the arrests of peaceful protesters and the violence against them, and urge internet companies to make it harder for Iran’s leaders to block social media apps like Telegram. If he cares about the Iranian people, as he claims, Trump will also lift the ban on Iranians traveling to America.
But the president should also be aware that foolish moves by his administration could empower the most regressive forces and set back reforms that could bring Iran fully into the community of nations.
The Trump administration’s decision to end the Temporary Protected Status for nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador who have been allowed to live in the United States for more than a decade comes as no surprise, given President Donald Trump’s attitude toward immigration and his past decisions to end protected status for Haitians and Nicaraguans. It’s the wrong decision, on humanitarian and practical grounds.
The TPS program was approved in 1990 to allow unauthorized foreigners who were in the United States when disaster struck their homeland to remain in the country until it was safe to return. The Salvadorans were granted protected status after a pair of devastating earthquakes in their land in 2001, and their status was extended several times by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.
Technically, the Department of Homeland Security is right that the conditions created by those quakes no longer exist. But the reasons the Salvadorans, like the Haitians and Nicaraguans, should be allowed to stay far outweigh the technically legal reasons to send them home.
There is nothing stopping Congress and the Trump administration from rewriting immigration law to avoid such harsh choices in the future. And Trump signaled on Tuesday that he’d consider compromise on the hundreds of thousands of so-called Dreamers, immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
Most of the Salvadorans who originally qualified for protected status fled a brutal civil war in their country between 1980 and 1992 — a war the United States fanned by its military support for the Salvadoran government. More than half of the Salvadorans under the program have lived in the United States for more than 20 years, and most have been working legally, paying taxes and raising families, including American-born children.
To uproot them is cruel and unnecessary.
Though El Salvador has rebuilt since the 2001 earthquakes, it remains ravaged by gang violence, drought and poverty, and its governments have regularly appealed to Washington not to aggravate the problems by repatriating thousands of people and halting the money they send back. In 2016, about $4.6 billion in remittances accounted for 17 percent of El Salvador’s economy.
The Trump administration has made its move. But the government has given the Salvadorans 18 months to prepare. That, as the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, noted in her decision, is also plenty of time for Congress to “craft a potential legislative solution” that would make it possible for people who have lived in the United States for many years under TPS to find another legal way to stay in the United States.
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