Iran sanctions are a good start -- now it's time to restore human rights to its people before it's too late

President Trump’s decision to slap what he called “the most biting sanctions ever” on Iran on Tuesday was a positive and necessary step to put pressure on the Islamic Republic’s corrupt regime that deprives its citizens of basic human rights, supports terrorism, fights in support of brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, and calls for death to the U.S. and Israel.

And President Trump has promised to toughen sanctions even further on Nov. 5, targeting Iran’s oil industry.

National Security Adviser John Bolton told Fox News on Tuesday: "We want to see a much broader retreat by Iran from their support for international terrorism, their belligerent military activity in the Middle East, and their ballistic missile, nuclear-related programs.”

The Iranian people are sick and tired of their repressive leaders who rule with an iron fist and the religious police who enforce a strict Islamist code. Protests by citizens in Iran keep getting bigger and more widespread and the regime is getting more violent in trying to stop them. Citizens refuse to accept a government that can spend billions of dollars supporting terrorism, but can’t feed its own citizens.

Unless Iran’s rulers really feel the pain of sanctions themselves, they will just apply more pain to the protesters.

The Iranian economy is already a shambles and the Iranian currency is in freefall, dropping in value daily – it has lost about half its value since President Trump wisely announced in May that the U.S. would withdraw from the deeply flawed deal that was supposed to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The new U.S. economic sanctions that President Trump imposed Tuesday are specifically designed to hurt the Iranian regime’s leaders, their businesses and their ability to operate Iran as a terror state. Unfortunately the Iranian people will suffer as well – that’s unavoidable – but they will know their oppressive rulers are hurting as well.

The American government continues to talk about how reform is badly needed in Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said it will require “enormous change” by the Iranian government to get the U.S. to remove the sanctions. America’s goal is to change the behavior of the Iranian regime both externally and internally.

The street protests by the Iranian people have sent as clear a message that the Islamist fundamentalist government does not represent the will of the people. It’s hard to see how the regime will ever be able to win back the trust of its citizens after decades of misrule and human rights violations.

While the new sanctions will certainly ratchet up the pressure on the Iranian government, there is no guarantee the regime will take steps for positive change. Iran’s leaders have continued to create problems in the region by having their proxies, the Houthis in Yemen, shoot missiles at passing ships. This caused Saudi Arabia to temporarily suspend oil shipments. That is an intolerable situation and one of the problems that sanctions on Iran are designed to stop.

The people of Iran want a change to the miserable hand they’ve been dealt. The Securities Studies Group, which I head, just published a report last week based on sources inside the country discussing what the protests are about and asking what happens next.

Our report states: “The main issues (sparking protests) are economic yet the main chants are ‘death to the dictator’ and ‘death to Rouhani.’ The grievances are increasing daily yet there is no prospect for their betterment, the latter only creates more frustration. … The protests have become more like a channel through which various groups of people vent their frustration but there is no roadmap to what to do afterwards. In other words, it is protesting for the sake of protesting.”

While the new U.S. sanctions are a great step, the Trump administration needs to also continue and even increase support for Iranian dissident groups.

As my colleague David Reaboi and Iranian activist Saghar Erica Kasraie wrote in The Federalist: “Thirty-nine years after the birth of the theocratic Shi’a regime, the president (Trump) reached out to the people of Iran, telling them: ‘The future of Iran belongs to its people. They are the rightful heirs to a rich culture and an ancient land. And they deserve a nation that does justice to their dreams, honor to their history, and glory to God.’”

The Federalist article goes on to state: “Young democracy activists need to hear this message on their own channels. U.S. government information, analysis, and policy branches need native Farsi speakers reading these and other social media daily, giving feedback and recommendations to policymakers.”

Iran’s dictatorial rulers are the most malevolent force in the Middle East. Simply stopping support for terrorist groups like Hamas and supplying military hardware to proxy armies like Hezbollah would make the region much more peaceful.

The Iranian regime’s push to become the dominant regional power and to create a land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean by establishing a permanent presence in Syria must never be allowed to happen. Ending Iranian aggression, support for terrorism, and threats to the U.S. and Israel is in the best interests of everyone – especially the people of Iran.

The Iranian government is now under growing pressure from both sanctions and protests that show no sign of slowing. What happens next is still up in the air.

But it’s clear that if the manpower, time and treasure Iran now devotes to malign activities were instead focused on internal growth, Iran could once again be a vital economy and see the return of a vibrant Persian culture.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has imposed tyrannical and oppressive rule on a great people for far too long. It is time to restore human rights to the Iranian people and let them live freely and flourish.

Jim Hanson is President of Security Studies Group and served in US Army Special Forces.