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Iranian Families Are Caught in the Crossfire as Trump Flirts With War

Thanks to U.S. sanctions, many people in Iran are struggling to put food on the table.

An Iranian woman walks next to a mural of Iranian soldiers on a street in Tehran, Iran, on April 9, 2019.

The first thing “Arvin Adams” does every morning is check the newsfeed on Google to see if the United States has bombed Iran. Adams (who prefers to use a pseudonym to protect his loved ones) is an Iranian American born in the U.S., but his fiancée and several members of his family live in Iran. Every day he worries they could be “blown up” if escalating tensions between the Trump administration and Tehran boil over into war.

Adams said he is particularly concerned about his grandmother and her family living near the Strait of Hormuz, where the U.S. has accused Iran of sabotaging oil tankers and Iranian forces shot down an unmanned U.S. drone flying in Iranian airspace last week. President Trump approved a potentially deadly airstrike in retaliation for the downed drone but called off the strike in a last-minute decision Thursday evening. The move appeared to de-escalate tensions at first, but a fresh round of sanctions and the latest war of words between Trump and Iranian leaders has dashed hopes for a diplomatic solution for the time being. Military conflict remains a distinct possibility.

Adams, a U.S. citizen in his late 20s, says he shouldn’t have to worry “every single day” about his own family becoming collateral damage of U.S. foreign policy.

“It’s a situation where I feel like we are being robbed of our own basic dignity,” Adams told Truthout in an interview. “Especially my generation. We didn’t ask for the Islamic Republic, nor did we ask for this bigotry we are seeing from this current administration [in the U.S.].”

Adams lives in a major city, works a job in finance and has plans to marry his fiancé. However, his life has been turned upside down by the policies of the Trump administration and its campaign of “maximum pressure” against the Iranian government, which has replaced a nuclear peace deal forged by President Obama. While the latest news coverage has focused on new sanctions against Iran’s leaders, Adams’s story is a stark reminder that real people are caught between the sparring governments, both at home and abroad.

Sanctions and the Muslim Ban Harm Families

Adams said Trump’s “Muslim Ban” on travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries has prevented his fiancée from joining him in the U.S. He travels to see her as much as possible, about four times a year.

“It’s hurting me, it’s definitely hurting her, and its hurting America,” Adams said, noting that his fiancée wants to work and pay taxes. “We’re not allowing people who are going to be hardworking contributors to our society, we’re not letting them in for no reason. On top of that, we are saying we might blow you up, so enjoy your life while you have it.”

Then there are the Trump administration’s escalating sanctions that have severely weakened Iran’s economy. Adams’s fiancée is a software engineer, but she lost her job at a tech startup after the Iranian currency crumbled. She lives with her parents, who survive on a pension that has dwindled to about $300 a month due to inflation. Adams has a good-paying job in the U.S., but sanctions have made it harder to send financial support to loved ones in Iran.

“People that have worked hard throughout their entire lives are now in a situation where they don’t know if they can eat every day,” Adams said. “Because of these sanctions, you can’t just walk into a Chase bank and do a wire transfer; you literally cannot do that.”

Trump appears wary of sparking another war in the Middle East as he begins campaigning for a second term, but he simultaneously seems to wish to appear tough on Iran. Besides Trump’s bluster and tweetstorms, economic sanctions and sanctions against Iranian leaders are at the center of his administration’s strategy to force Iran to negotiate a new agreement for halting its nuclear programs and end its support for regional militias at odds with U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia. Along with international allies, President Obama negotiated a historic deal that was successfully containing Iran’s ambitions for a nuclear weapon before Trump unilaterally pulled out of the deal last year.

So far, this strategy hasn’t worked, and tensions have only increased as the U.S sanctions cut Iran off from international oil markets.

Trump announced another round of sanctions on Monday after a week of saber-rattling that brought both countries to the brink of war. The drama continued this week, with Trump responding to insults made by top Iranian leaders with tweets suggesting that he is still willing to attack Iran with “overwhelming force.” Some observers suspect that war hawks within the Trump administration are using sanctions to provoke a military conflict, not avoid one.

“The strategy of maximum pressure is not designed to induce negotiations, but rather to push Iran away from the negotiating table while triggering further Iranian provocations that could serve as a pretext for war,” said Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), in a statement. “We’ve already seen the fruit of this approach — a fraying nuclear accord, heightening tensions in the Persian Gulf, and a last-second decision from Trump to put the brakes on a major war.”

Sanctions Hamstring Iranian Dissidents

The impact that sanctions have on everyday Iranians and their family members abroad has largely been missing from media coverage in the U.S., and advocates say that is a big problem when two nations appear to be edging toward war.

“The Iranian side of the story is missing,” said Ryan Costello, a spokesperson for the NIAC, in an interview. “It’s weird to me to try to understand a conflict without looking at one side of it.”

Adams said that, like many Iranians, he and his family members are “open minded” and “secular” people. Adams said that a majority of Iranians are probably “not fans of their own government,” but Trump’s aggressive policies work against dissidents and reformers by supplying propaganda tools for the Iranian regime.

“It doesn’t make sense to hurt the Iranian people … when you do that, you are only playing into the hands of hardliners over there, what they want,” Adams said. “They want anti-American sentiments, and this is precisely what is happening now.”

Last month, student activists in Tehran held a protest against both “foreign sanctions” and “domestic repression” while declaring solidarity with political prisoners from various social movements. In a statement, the students spoke against “war, sanctions, and authoritarianism” as activists who have found themselves “stuck between domestic and foreign bullies.” Costello said the protest was a clear sign that Trump’s sanctions are counterproductive, because they hamstring Iranian activists willing to challenge a government that has long been at odds with the U.S. When people’s basic needs are not met, it’s hard to find time and energy to protest.

“They are worrying about how they are going to get their next meal on the table and so forth,” Costello said.

For Adams, the sanctions and threat of war are deeply personal. It’s average Iranians like his fiancée and family members who are suffering under Trump’s attempt to force Iranian concessions through economic strangulation and threats of violence. Trump may relish appearing tougher on Iran than his predecessor and playing with fire on the world stage, but it’s people like Adams and his fiancée who are caught in the crossfire.

“She’s going through a lot, and it’s really hurting me,” Adams said.

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