Protests broke out in Iran over the weekend after the clerical regime announced whopping increases in fuel prices and imposed rationing. Ayatollah Khamenei has responded by doubling down on the move, calling demonstrators “thugs,” and shutting down the Internet. The domestic unrest is taking place as Iran’s imperialist foreign policy has met resistance in Iraq and Lebanon. The mullahs can’t be happy.
Clearly Iran is not doing “just fine,” as the headline of an article in Foreign Affairs put it two weeks ago. President Trump’s economic warfare campaign has divided the Iranian regime from an Iranian population tired of stagnation and proxy war.
That has made Iran increasingly desperate — violating the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to bully Europe into economic relief while lashing out against oil tankers, drones, and the Abqaiq oil facility in Saudi Arabia. So far, Trump has resisted military action in favor of cyberattacks and tightening sanctions. Iran is destabilized. It is also more dangerous.
The suddenness of Iran’s troubles is a reminder that regimes without democratic legitimacy are never truly stable. “Maximum pressure” is showing results. But the results contribute to the underlying chaos in the Greater Middle East.