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Farzan Sabet @IranWonk
, 18 tweets, 16 min read Read on Twitter
Excited to share my first piece in 18 months and in @ForeignPolicy, co-authored w/ Simon Miles, an assistant professor @DukeSanford, completing a book on US-Soviet relations during the early 1980s based on new Eastern bloc archival sources. 1/…
Context: @mike_giglio had an excellent piece last month on how the #Trump admin may be executing a strategy of "maximum pressure" against #Iran, partly inspired by the book "Victory" & its claim that Reagan used this strategy to defeat the Soviet Union. 2/…
There's only one problem: "Victory" is not good history, to put it politely. The most basic critique is that the author didn't have access to US & Soviet archives when the book was published in 1994. You can find much harsher academic critiques online. 3/…
Simon & I are both Cold War historians and have logged many hours going through documents at the fantastic @Reagan_Library. I also work on Iran & Simon is writing a book on #Reagan and the USSR in the 1980s. Whatever one thinks about #Trump's #Iran policy, it's not Reaganite. 4/
Whether a "Victory"-style strategy against #Iran is an actual blueprint or mostly symbolic, the #Trump admin is trying to wrap itself in #Reagan's portrait & raise the #Soviet analogy. For ex. see Secretary #Pompeo's recent piece in @ForeignAffairs. 5/…
Don't get me wrong, I personally think there are a lot of lessons from the #Soviet collapse for #Iran & other cases. And don't just take my word for it: Ayatollah #Khamenei & the #IRGC themselves are obsessed w/ the Soviet analogy and have tried to take lessons from it. 6/
But "Victory" advocates in the #Trump admin & among its allies have taken the wrong lessons from this history. #Reagan never took a strategy of "maximum pressure" against the #Soviets. What he did do is instructive. After a short break, I'll explain more. 7/
"Victory" tells a nice story of US using "maximum pressure" to accelerate the demise of the #USSR. But it doesn't take the #Soviet's self-inflicted wounds as seriously. In international politics an actor applying pressure has limited agency in bringing about a desired change. 8/
In sanctions studies we call this the "naive theory of sanctions": The fallacy (noted since the 1960s) that economic hardship is directly proportional to political change. In reality states adjust to/counteract sanctions and there are often perverse/unintended consequences. 9/
Beyond this fallacy at the heart of "Victory" there is another error: While #Reagan did increase overall US pressure on the #USSR, his strategy was by no means "maximum pressure". 10/
The #Reagan admin didn't use every opportunity (short of war of course) to pressure the #Soviets, as "Victory" would have us believe. We give just one example, the Soviets shooting down of Korean Airlines Flight 007, to highlight how Reagan applied pressure selectively. 11/
So how could #Reagan's "calibrated pressure" against the #USSR (since "maximum pressure" is largely a myth) be conceptualized for the case of #Iran? Whatever mix of diplomatic, economic, & military tools this strategy would employ, it would have at least three basic elements. 12/
First, avoid bolstering hardliners. #Reagan was aware of #Soviet internal dynamics & how pushing #Gorbachev too hard could make things worse. I'm skeptical of reform in #Iran as currently conceived. Doesn't mean internal dynamics don't matter & that things can't get worse. 13/
We highlight three ways this could/is play(ing) out in #Iran: a) #Rouhani gov being pushed into conservative arms b) Further empowering #IRGC & c) Strengthening hardliners ahead of possible supreme leader succession, which can shape system dynamics for better/worse for years. 14/
Second, heal the breach w/ #Europe. #Reagan understood the importance of Europe in the conflict w/ the #USSR. "Maximum pressure" has changed conversation from IRI's problematic behaviors, which EU was willing to work on w/ #Trump admin, to what many see as US intransigency. 15/
The breach w/ #EU, in broader context of #Trump policies, threatens future efficacy of sanctions & dollar.

@secolbourn discusses #Reagan's multilateralism, at odds w/ #Trump/#Bolton's unilateralism, in a piece in WaPo's @madebyhistory worth reading. 16/…
Finally, minimize the negative impact of US policy on ordinary #Iran|ians. Limited data, but suspect Iranians still largely blame Islamic Republic for calamities that have befallen them. But #Trump "maximum pressure" is starting to hurt ordinary folk. 17/…
Don't let the IRI change the story. #Reagan never lost sight of fact that in struggle against “the evil empire,” everyday citizens in the Eastern bloc were communism’s main victims & the most valuable agents of change. It was they, after all, who tore down the Berlin Wall. 18/18
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