Data from a Gallup poll released last week reveals that the Iranian people suffer the worst economic conditions of any national population in the Middle East or North Africa. Fifty percent of Iranians claim to have struggled to provide themselves and their families with food and shelter over the past 12 months and even more describe maintaining consistently negative emotional states — 58% cite constant worry, 54% cite constant sadness, and 54% cite constant anger.
There is no doubt that these desolate conditions, and the consequent depleting Iranian morale, are the result of the unyielding sanctions imposed by the United States and other nations. And while these sanctions were absolutely provoked and rationalized by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bellicose policies, nearly half of Iran’s populace — 46% — chiefly blames the United States for the economic and emotional woes that they and their fellow countrymen are facing.
It is clear that the sanctions are successfully imposing crippling hardships as intended. Yet their actual practical gains are questionable. Rather than forcing the Iranian government to reduce its funding for its nuclear program, or reducing the general Iranian drive to develop nuclear capabilities, the sanctions are perpetuating the anti-American stigma that already permeates the nation and its region, and that poses an increasing security threat to the United States and its allies.
However, many United States leaders point to the recent presidential election of Hasan Rouhani, a supposed moderate, as a sign that the Iranian people are ready to abandon the radicalism that has largely defined the nation in recent history. Rowhani hopes to “follow the path of moderation and justice, not extremism.”
And while President-Elect Rouhani has indeed shown willingness to cultivate a more civil dynamic with the United States, mentioning that the two nations’ current relationship is plagued by "an old wound that needs to be healed," he has no intention of abandoning Iran’s nuclear initiative — a pursuit with which 68% of his constituents agree.
The United States cannot responsibly maintain its current sanctions hoping that the Iranian government will eventually surrender. The longer the sanctions are imposed and the more severe their effects, the more motivated Iran and its people will be to develop a nuclear arsenal and defy the United States.
Sentiment amongst Iranians is generally consistent— they believe that the United States is a perverse state with which they must deal in order to evade their current situation. Hossein, a merchant in Tehran's bazaar, believes that Iran "should not submit to the U.S. But [Iran] can behave like Turkey, which is powerful politically and economically, without fighting with the world which has led to this mess.”
Although it is unclear how willing President-Elect Rouhani actually will be to seriously seek a mutually beneficial relationship with the United States, the United States would be remiss not to do its part in pursuing civil relations. The Iranian people are suffering and a policy that further aggravates this suffering will not encourage acquiescence, it will fuel indignation and defiance.