Biden Iran Envoy Boasted of Causing Civilian Deprivation

Max Blumenthal reports on the sadistic contents of Richard Nephew’s book on the “art of sanctions.”  

Fruit shop in Tehran, Iran, 2018. (Ninara, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

By Max Blumenthal
The Grayzone

The Biden administration has named Richard Nephew as its deputy Iran envoy. As the former principal deputy coordinator of sanctions policy for Barack Obama’s State Department, Nephew took personal credit for depriving Iranians of food, sabotaging their automobile industry, and driving up unemployment rates.

Nephew has described the destruction of Iran’s economy as “a tremendous success,” and lamented during a visit to Russia that food was still plentiful in the country’s capital despite mounting U.S. sanctions.

Nephew’s appointment to a senior diplomatic post suggests that rather than immediately returning to the JCPOA nuclear deal, the Biden administration will finesse sanctions illegally imposed by Trump to pressure Iran into an onerous, reworked agreement that Tehran is unlikely to join.

After coordinating Obama’s sanctions regime against Iran, Nephew left the administration for a position at the energy industry-funded Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. There, he published a book outlining in blunt terms how he honed the craft of economic warfare and applied it against Iran.

Entitled “The Art of Sanctions: A View From The Field,” the book’s cover image features two Caucasian hands drawing a rope for a noose, presumably to strangle some insufficiently pliant Global South government. Its contents read like a list of criminal confessions, detailing in chillingly clinical terms how the sanctions Nephew conceived from inside an air-conditioned office in Washington immiserated average Iranians.

With his candor, Nephew has shattered the official U.S. rhetoric about “targeted sanctions” that exclusively punish “bad actors” and their business cronies while leaving civilian populations unharmed.

The application of pain to a country’s civilian population is central to Nephew’s sanctions strategy. As he explains in “The Art of Sanctions,” for the unilateral coercive measures to succeed, they must impose significant pain to a state’s most vulnerable sectors, shatter the state’s political and social resolve, and ultimately force the state to cry uncle in the face of Washington’s demands.

An excerpt from Richard Nephew’s book The Art of Sanctions.

Nephew detailed how, as JCPOA negotiations got underway in January 2012, he led a process to reduce Iran’s oil revenue and starve its economy.

After the Obama administration successfully pushed for a wholesale reduction in oil exports and other unilateral coercive measures, Iran’s economy went from a period of growth to a sudden and staggering contraction, while the value of its currency tumbled.

Nephew pronounced the economic assault he engineered to be “a tremendous success.”

An excerpt from Richard Nephew’s book The Art of Sanctions.

Nephew also patted himself on the back for tripling the price of chicken “during important Iranian holiday periods,” thereby “contribut[ing] to more popular frustration in one bank shot than years of financial restrictions.”

Next, he boasted of more sanctions targeting civilians to prevent Iranians from obtaining the assistance they needed to repair their cars. “Iran’s manufacturing jobs and export revenue were the targets of this sanction,” Nephew wrote.

There were some goods that Nephew wanted Iran to import, however. In hopes of fomenting social unrest, he said Washington “expanded the ability of U.S. and foreign companies to sell Iranians technology used for personal communications” so they could “learn more about the dire straits of their country’s economy…”

More on those rising chicken prices: 



During a Dec. 6, 2017, panel discussion about his book at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, Nephew detailed with a chilling smile how he not only sabotaged Iran’s automotive industry, but targeted “things like unemployment, to try to drive that up and make things a little more sticky.”

In response to online criticism, Nephew has claimed that “the main target” of the sanctions regime he designed was “the oligarchs.” But his book on “The Art of Sanctions” tells another story.

Nephew fondly recalls how he structured sanctions to sabotage Iranian economic reforms that would have improved the purchasing power of average people.

Obama Era Sanctions  

The Obama administration destroyed the economic prospects of Iran’s working-class majority while ensuring that “only the wealthy or those in positions of power could take advantage of Iran’s continued connectedness,” he wrote. As “stories began to emerge from Iran of intensified income inequality and inflation,” Nephew pronounced another success.

As he made clear, the rising inequality “was a choice” that Washington “made on the basis of helping to drive up the pressure on the Iranian economy from internal sources.” Nephew went on to claim credit for October 2012 protests brought on by the devaluation of Iran’s currency.

In a fairly stunning admission, Nephew admits at one point that despite providing Iran with supposed humanitarian exceptions on U..S sanctions, the economic war he helped design caused a catastrophic shortage of medicine and medical devices, largely because average Iranians could not afford them.

Despite acknowledging the heavy toll of human suffering brought on by the sanctions he personally conceived, suggesting they could have prompted high numbers of excess deaths, Nephew appears to be devoid of contrition.

During a December 2016 trip to Moscow, he complained that despite the sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S., food was still widely available at local restaurants – “hardly a level of pain” that was necessary to bring the Kremlin to heel.

He called to “develop a strategy to carefully, methodically, and efficiently increase pain on those areas [of the Russian economy] that are vulnerabilities and avoid those that are not.”

The Banality of Richard Nephew

So who is Richard Nephew? Does he lurk in the shadow world of intelligence intrigues and spook wars, keeping a low profile while he waits to strike the enemy? Or is he a fire-breathing hardliner bellowing threats against America’s adversaries from Beltway think tank panels? The reality is much more banal.

When he is not snatching chicken from Iranian kids during their winter holiday, Nephew is spending quality time with his own, amusing them with his tattered dad rock t-shirts and flashing arms adorned with tribal tattoos.

In an administration filled with fun-loving, ethnically diverse characters who moonlight as rock guitaristsdecorate the walls of their homes with Haitian art, bob their heads to Tupac, and even enjoy an occasional toke, all while keeping the gears of a ferociously violent empire grinding along, the tattooed sanctions artist seems like a perfect fit.

Meanwhile, in Iran, where a leading daily recently portrayed Nephew as Keanu Reeves in the horror film The Devil’s Advocate, his elevation to a senior diplomatic role is viewed as a sign of more pain to come.

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican Gomorrah,  Goliath,  The Fifty One Day War and The Management of Savagery. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Killing Gaza and Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie.” Blumenthal founded The Grayzone Project in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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22 comments for “Biden Iran Envoy Boasted of Causing Civilian Deprivation

  1. March 11, 2021 at 02:39

    That banality of Richard Nephew is very sickening. And not any different from that of somebody like Eichmann, the subject of an article by Hannah Arendt about the banality of evil, or others who ran the concentration camps as part of their jobs and then went home to their families.

    Actually closer to home the banality described in the article can be found in Christians of fundamentalist or evangelical persuasion. They can get together for Bible study or fellowship in a comfortable setting, such as in a church or someone’s home, and serve coffee and refreshments, and sing praises to their God.

    However Christians of that persuasion typically believe that those who, for whatever reason, do not come to “accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior” in this present life, will be condemned to hell for all eternity. This means not only people who are obviously “bad”, but regular people who they meet every day, friends, neighbors, family, etc., who might be nice, but who have not “accepted Jesus Christ”. (And worse, they believe a “bad” person who does come to “accept Jesus Christ” will be let into heaven, but a “good” person who has not “accepted Jesus Christ” will not be let into heaven.)

    They believe that because that is what the Bible teaches, and the Bible is the “inspired Word of God”, and not to be questioned. So they feel they have to believe as they do. And they worship and sing praises to this God.

    And people go to hell after they die (as they believe). Out of sight, out of mind. Like those in Iran or Venezuela or Syria or Yemen or Palestinians in Gaza on whom we impose sanctions or who we bomb, or allow our allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia to do so.

    They think we need to give our unconditional support to Israel, because the Bible, the “Word of God”, says that God gave that land to the Jews/Hebrews, God’s “chosen people”.

    They have no problem with the genocide and atrocities in the Old Testament, committed by the ancient Hebrews against their neighbors, allegedly at the command of God. And allegedly those neighbors against whom atrocities were committed were very wicked and God was furious at them. A long time ago, and out of sight, out of mind.

    And some Christians of that persuasion might believe that they are going to be “raptured” away, while the rest of the “unsaved” world goes through the “Great Tribulation”.

    It is sickening that such Christians worship and sing praises to that kind of God, and either want to or feel they have to evangelize on behalf of that God.

    I used to be a Christian, and have sometimes been in fellowship meetings with Christians of that persuasion. To be fair I think that not all Christians necessarily believe as described above; even so I am very glad not to be a Christian any more.

  2. Antiwar7
    March 10, 2021 at 16:35

    Richard Nephew: what a sociopath.

    I hope he gets the public disgrace he deserves for his white-bread evilness.

    • Anne
      March 11, 2021 at 10:58

      But how likely is that…he’ll more likely get Pulitzer or some such and many (dollar heavy) pats on the back…

  3. vinnieoh
    March 10, 2021 at 11:53

    The banality of evil: “The Art of Sanctions…” Like he’s crafting a masterpiece of exercised power. I first became aware of the phrase “US interests, values, and way of life” reading the 2000 PNAC document “Strategies for Rebuilding America’s Defenses”; Mr. Nephew does create a study in realism of what those have become.

  4. Alex Cox
    March 10, 2021 at 10:48

    With luck this book’s revelations will come back to haunt the little a–hole, and his enablers.

  5. Anonymot
    March 9, 2021 at 22:23

    Just another example of the Central Intel neo-fascist mentality. They chose Biden, because he’s spent many years working with them. So their domestic game is to put submissive people in key positions. After 4 years of Trump opposing them, Biden and Harris must be a great relief.

    Nephew is just another cog in the neofascist gear, but we have to remember that we are now about where Germany was in 1937 and the general public knew what was going on, because of the parades, the uniforms, anti-Semitic violence and 5 years of getting hyped up for war. The comparison is not identical, but terribly parallel. The problem is public lethargy allows both parties to put up candidates who are pro-Money and anti-democratic. We’ve never had a true democracy; it seems the best we can get is the Dream.

    Many of us can think of ways to become more democratic, but the reality of who has the money, the power, and even the arms reduces those ideas to dust. It is not us. Perhaps there’s nothing better to do than a return to the 1920s and enjoy it. Or maybe we already have and the modern version is in computer games and sports and easy escapist TV interviews of the latest now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t celebrities, dope of various kinds and levels, and visits to the shrink. Escape, escape, escape, like mice on a wheel.

    So who is going to get Mr. Nephew and his like out of ALL government decision making positions?

  6. Selab
    March 9, 2021 at 22:16

    He is the cool and proud architect of deadly sanctions under Obama “the good” presidency, it makes one angry rather than shocked.

    • Anne
      March 10, 2021 at 11:44

      No dreadfully, heinously it is US govt business as usual…a profoundly do unto others what we shall not permit done unto us…

  7. AmericanPatriot
    March 9, 2021 at 20:12

    This goes to show America how godawful the Democrats and Biden are to humanity for power. Why can’t we Americans cjhoose who we want to lead us, instead of allowing Illegal COUP of the President we voted in office? I thought that the Constitution was put in writing to keep the government afraid of the people, not the other way around.

    • robert e williamson jr
      March 10, 2021 at 23:17

      I have some issues with your premise here.

      I can agree with you on how dogawful the democrats are to humanity, anyone with a few years on them know the democrats are pretty useless most of the time. They represent, in my opinion ,the paid opposition of the obviously majority of republicans many of whom seem to be mentally afflicted.

      Deep State has some very deep pockets.

      But didn’t you and your ilk vote for Trump and elect him? Isn’t that what happened when the village idiot from NYC got elected? I mean didn’t some Americans vote to elect him?

      I am confused about what you mean by” illegal COUP of the President we voted into office.” He served, although in my opinion, very badly and managed to get beaten by Biden.

      Please tell me you don’t believe this last election was stolen. Please! Dogdamn the orange oracle didn’t get beat by Biden he gave the election away by not being able to close his pie hole.

      What you have written here is a perfect example of how dogawful republicans act when they are told, No!

      After everything that has happened the fact that you would still back president reject is very concerning indeed.

      I don’t back Biden and have been very open about it. I also refuse to back a spoiled, bigoted bully rich kid!

      Bubba that sure as hell don’t mean I’m not Patriotic. Don’t be such a sore loser any try and be rational, we all lose every time we have an election that erroneously honors the two part system.

      I happen to agree with Mark Twain, Patriotism is backing your country ALL the time and the government when is deserves it.

      There is nothing wrong with this country that losing both the republican party of “NO” and the democratic party of “do nothing to piss off the republicans” or more simply the “do nothing and blame it on the party of no” wouldn’t help immensely. But that would only help if both parties left D.C. with the Deep State in tow.

      From what I read here I think reading the Constitution might give you some heartburn.

      Thanks CN

      BTW Did I miss an inauguration last week? Dog give me strength.

  8. Frank Munley
    March 9, 2021 at 17:37

    Just imagine how the US’s humanitarian interventionists would howl if an “enemy” country’s army in a battle literally put children in the front lines. That’s what the US national security state has been doing for many years, throughout the administrations of Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump, and now Biden. This fellow Nephew, like so many others, are sociopaths, cruel and arrogant people who care not a whit about innocents in other countries.

    • Anne
      March 10, 2021 at 11:43

      Absolutely true…Is there anyone anywhere in the whole government apparatus that is not socio-/pyscho-pathic???? I’ve not noticed one. But then who would have imagined that a Biden-Harris admin would have been any better, more humane, less warmongering, slaughtering, barbarian than any of the previous ones, going back at least as far as Truman???

  9. Marc Shulman
    March 9, 2021 at 16:25

    It would seem that Robert Mallay, Biden’s envoy to Iran, will need to watch his back as he faces the Iranians. Biden is evidently putty in the hands of the anti-Iran hardliners.

  10. Andrew Nichols
    March 9, 2021 at 16:24

    Another banal functionary of empire. Lots of the Nazis Death Camp officials were like this.

    • Bart Hansen
      March 10, 2021 at 11:26

      Andrew, I was going to say he reminds of our middle school bully, but your simile fits better.

    • Anne
      March 10, 2021 at 11:38

      Deeply akin to HRC’s buddy-buddy Albright, of course…Do any people other than psychopaths become part of the US government, all levels????

  11. Cal Lash
    March 9, 2021 at 15:49

    Thanks. No surprise.

  12. John Neal Spangler
    March 9, 2021 at 14:58

    Great article about the sheer evilness that the Biden foreign policy is. Amazing how the “liberals” can use that name despite launching the most Totalitarian Imperialistic foreign policy in memory. Don’t forget that the Biden regime has said that LGBT “rights” are universal and is denouncing as “uncivilized’ any country that does not have the same attitude as the Biden administration. Essentially Biden has declared war on all religions and cultures.

  13. Mimi
    March 9, 2021 at 14:46

    It seems Washington has become a harvesting ground, where genetically adapted criminals flourish and thrive, instead of imprisonment. And unfortunately, the Good America, hasn’t been very successful in finding an effective pesticide to deal with these infestation.

  14. PEG
    March 9, 2021 at 14:16

    Interesting commentary by Max Blumenthal – reminds me of reading Shirer’s “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” years ago – Nephew sounds very much like one of the more eager young sadists working in Himmler’s RSHA.

    What I cannot understand is the reason for the incredible animus against Iran on the part of the US foreign policy blob. Pompeo said that Iran is the principal source of “terrorism” in the world. But what terrorist acts were committed by Iran? I can’t think of any. How many of the 9-11 terrorists came from Iran? Can’t think of any.

    • Jozef
      March 10, 2021 at 14:32

      The “incredible animus” revolves solely around israel, and its bloodthirsty quest for ME hegemony, via it’s lapdog, America.

      • Anne
        March 11, 2021 at 10:54

        This so so true…And those we fund, we support…which only reveals OUR grotesqueness…

Comments are closed.