JOHN TULLOH. Uncle Sam makes it an unhappy Persian new year in Iran.

One can only surmise at the quiet satisfaction among members of the Trump administration at the current distress of Iran regarding the coronavirus sweeping the country.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marked the start of the Persian new year, normally a time of renewal, by imposing even more sanctions under the US’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign. Officially they are aimed at forcing Iran to limit its nuclear, missile and regional activities. This amounts to cutting off its oil exports which would mean bankruptcy. The hidden motive is to bring the ayatollahs to their knees. Trump needs to be reminded of the consequences when Washington decided in 2003 to enforce new leadership on Iran’s neighbour, Iraq. Some of the volatile ingredients are there to happen again if Iran unravels and with a heavily infected populace.

Iran as a bogeyman has been a peculiar obsession of Washington since the Islamic revolution in 1979 despite its great love affair before then with the Shah, his oil wealth and his insatiable appetite for weapons, mainly American. John Bolton, the hawkish former US national security advisor, said only this month that now was an opportunity to go to war with Iran. This was at a time when Iran had already suffered more than 1000 deaths from the virus, thousands more had been infected and the disease was out of control in a country desperately short of medical supplies due to American sanctions.

Deutsche Welle reported last week that researchers at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran had created a computer simulator to analyse scenarios. One was that infections would not peak until late May. The death toll could be as high as 3.5 million, they claimed, or more than four percent of Iran’s population.

Washington has indicated it might make an exception of humanitarian aid, but pharmaceutical companies are afraid to act because they have been punished previously for trading with Tehran. It is the same with banks when asked to transfer funds. Even George W.Bush, no friend of Iran (part of his ‘Axis of Evil’), suspended sanctions to allow in humanitarian supplies following a 2003 earthquake which killed 26,000 Iranians. US planes and personnel were deployed then to help.

The Iranian foreign minister called the current sanctions ‘medical terrorism’. The fear is that currently more than 100,000 Iranians may be infected and nothing can be done about it because Tehran does not have the means to do so due to those sanctions. Washington has ignored pleas from China and Russia and even reportedly Britain to do the right thing. There have been reports the US might do so if Iran releases three or four Americans who were imprisoned there.

If so, there is something distasteful about haggling over the freedom for three or four jailed people when 80,000,000 million people are living in fear of the silent killer stalking their land and in a state of helplessness when help is at hand. One would expect that Trump, a reported germaphobe, of all people would empathise, especially now that the virus is on his very doorstep, much to his political discomfort.

But Washington could well be more interested in watching how the current political infighting in Iran plays out. The country’s dual power structure is anything but unified even in the face of such a crisis. The New York Times says Iran’s paramount religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with the backing of the religious hardliners and the military, is locked in a power struggle with the civilian government of President Hassan Rouhani about how to deal with it. The result has been a trail of contradictory announcements and a confused and angry populace wondering who’s in charge of the unfolding calamity.

I spoke to a 31-year-old electronics engineer, Meisam, who lives in Tehran. The coronavirus has hit his family. His mother’s longtime driver died of it. His widow and their daughter have it. Meisam blames US sanctions. He dislikes the ruling ayatollahs. He calls Trump ‘ a dictator and a terrorist’. He cannot understand the US hostility to Iran when Saudi Arabian money, as he sees it, underwrites terrorist organisations like ISIS. He would like to see sanctions suspended for three months if only to allow Iranians to import the necessary medical supplies free of US interference.

Once upon a time, the US was renowned for the generosity of its aid to foreign countries in crisis. Remember the symbol of the clasped Stars and Stripes hands of helping others in time of need. Today Trump is very suspicious of doing this. For example, his 2021 budget proposes decreasing the UN regular budget by 34% and eliminating funding to some relief programs altogether. It is in part a reflection of his attitude to the rest of the world about getting anything from Uncle Sam without first earning it.

The Washington Post says the Trump sanctions campaign has resulted in little tangible benefit to the US, but at the same time the costs of U.S. policy are growing. If the US can talk to the Sunni Taliban, why can’t they genuinely reach out to the the Shiite ayatollahs? It might just persuade the Iranians to swallow some of their bluster and antagonism towards the Great Satan.

FOOTNOTE. Washington has always underestimated the traditional self-reliance of Iranians and their refusal to be intimidated by outsiders or be bossed around by them. If anything, says Meisam, the sanctions have made Iranians even more self-sufficient and he takes some satisfaction from that. But at the same time they are unacceptable when nurses are forced to wear plastic disposable tablecloths because protective clothing is not available, never mind the many other vital medical products which are blocked by the sanctions. ‘They are fighting the virus with almost bare hands’, he said. Despite the lurking human catastrophe in Iran, shops are operating normally with no frenzied rush to grab whatever is there. Australians, take note.

John Tulloh had a 40-year career in foreign news.


John Tulloh had a 40-year career in foreign news.

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6 Responses to JOHN TULLOH. Uncle Sam makes it an unhappy Persian new year in Iran.

  1. Avatar Jim KABLE says:

    Not even a week later and the US is already leading the world in corona-virus infected citizens (and I note that many of the cases here in Australia seem to have US (Denver ski-fields or cruise companies) origin. Were it not that I have dozens of US cousins – and I certainly do not blame them – one might think “karma”/what goes around comes around – as a way of pointing out the ugliness of the US to both China and now in this case – to Iran. But the distinction is between the the ugliness of the US leadership/CIA/vested interests punishment style – and the citizens within the US who have in fact very little power against the brutality of their own President and manipulated political representatives. Recently (November last) in Georgia/Armenia I met a number of young people and family groups on visits there from Iran. Not one had two heads or looked like the alien featured in so many Hollywood blockbuster “us” against “them” invasion movies (all propping up their paranoia of borders and walls to keep the “other” out – inherited here for us by Dutton/Pezzullo)! It’s beyond time that the rest of the world placed sanctions against the US.

  2. Avatar Gavin O'Brien says:

    This sort of policy from the US is not new, they have done it in Central and South America , despite the policy going ‘pear shaped’ each time, they just don’t learn! Americans study very little history or politics outside the American system at school. It is no surprise that the knowledge of the history and parculualities of other systems/countries at senior levels of the Administration are so poor. I suspect that if they take on Iran, they will get an even bigger and bloodier nose then they received in all the failed adventures since and including, Vietnam. I just hope we are not stupid enough to follow them.

    • Avatar John Tulloh says:

      Gavin, you are right. One major deficiency in Washington is its reluctance, if not refusal, to learn from history. It thinks only of the present as if the past is irrelevant. It would be a human catastrophe if the US goaded Iran into war.

  3. Avatar Kien Choong says:

    Those Christians in the Trump administration need to reflect more carefully on what Jesus means when he says:

    “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

    “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? … And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

  4. Avatar David Menere says:

    Several members of the US Administration seem to have a mindset derived from Old Testament examples of smiting one’s enemies in the name of the Lord. Not surprising given the Evangelical/Christian Zionist obsessions of many of the Administration’s top officials, but of questionable relevance to 21st century statecraft.

    An interesting article on the split between this group and the Pentagon, which rightly rejects the idea of being ordered into yet another military misadventure in the Middle East can be found at

  5. Avatar Hal Duell says:

    There is something pathologically wrong with “kicking a man when he is down”. It is cowardly in the extreme, and long viewed as such under any standards of civilised behaviour.
    Do we really want to be “joined at the hip” with a requiem which not only practices such a foreign policy, but brags about it and forces other nations to do likewise? Perhaps Marsie Payne and Penny Wong could either endorse, and thereby own, this abhorrent behaviour, or condemn it for the barbarism it is.

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