After the most recent round of intense Iranian civil unrest spurred by the death and mourning for the reform movement’s spiritual godfather, Ayatollah Montazeri, I would’ve thought the Obama administration would’ve learned the appropriate lesson: back off. Don’t do anything. Let events in Iran take their course. Hope the reform movement eventually gets the upper hand. Do what you can to help make that happen by laying off and making strong statements supporting human rights in that country. And indeed, Barack Obama did make such a statement.
But either Obama’s not fully running the show or Dennis Ross and his buddies are doing some freelancing at the N.S.C. because the news reported by the N.Y. Times is disconcerting:
As President Obama faces pressure to back up his year-end ultimatum for diplomatic progress with Iran, the administration says that domestic unrest and signs of unexpected trouble in Tehran’s nuclear program make its leaders particularly vulnerable to strong and immediate new sanctions.
…In interviews, Mr. Obama’s strategists said that while Iran’s top political and military leaders remained determined to develop nuclear weapons, they were distracted by turmoil in the streets and political infighting, and that the drive to produce nuclear fuel appeared to have faltered in recent months.
What’s interesting about the last paragraph is that the source provides no proof the protests have hindered the nuclear program. And if nuclear research has indeed faltered (a debatable claim as I mentioned), why impose sanctions which will drive Iran’s back up against the wall and make it even more recalcitrant than it already is?? The problem with sanctions is that they are a policy which provides no climb-down mode for Iran. Even if it wanted to (and I see no reason that it does), there is no way Iran can back down from nuclear research and save face under the dangling sword of sanctions.
There is more dubious material in this report:
The White House wants to focus the new sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the military force believed to run the nuclear weapons effort.
The sentiment is, of course, well and good since the Revolutionary Guards are hated within and without Iran. But the fact is that the sanctions legislation most recently passed by Congress, the Guards will actually be benefited and not hindered. These sanctions target Iranian oil imports. The Guards have had 15 years to development alternate sources for every sanction-affected product including petroleum. So banning such imports will only force the Iranian people to turn even more decidedly toward Guard sponsored black market sources. In other words, it will enrich an already fabulously wealthy government apparatus and strengthen the role it plays in the Iranian economy.
The article vaguely refers to “financial” sanctions which can hurt Revolutionary Guard front businesses. And they’re not trying to do that already? What possibly can they do that they haven’t tried already?
If smart Iranian analysts like Roger Cohen and Muhhamad Sahimi know our sanctions help the Guards, why doesn’t the U.S. government? And if it does, why is it deluding itself and attempting to delude the American people with this garbage??
Government officials acknowledge that Iran’s “nuclear breakout” period has been pushed back to anywhere from 18 months to three years. If that’s the case, then why the rush to sanctions? The whiz kids in the White House claim that this longer period will give sanctions more time to “work.” The truth of the matter is that sanctions began in 1995 and they haven’t worked from the beginning. And there is no possible set of new sanctions that can change that unless the entire world agrees to join in our regime. This simply isn’t going to happen and Obama, the rest of the world, and the Iranians know this. So what we are doing is simply a charade that makes the American people feel we’re doing SOMETHING (when we’re not), and keeps the neocon war hawks off Obama’s back. It’s a poor excuse for a coherent policy toward Iran.
My hunch that this story emanates from a Ross-like source (if not the former Aipac analyst himself) is reinforced by this passage:
Another administration official said that Israeli officials, while still publicly hinting that they might take military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, “now feel that what’s happening in Iran makes the country vulnerable to real sanctions…”
Few in this administration have Israel’s ear like Dennis Ross. Few care more about what Israel thinks than he. Few articulate their policy options with greater attentiveness to Israeli concerns and interests. This smells like a Ross to me.
Whoever spoke these words or wrote them hasn’t a clue what really motivates the Iranian reform movement:
Sanctions will be a difficult balancing act for the administration, since it acknowledges that three previous rounds of sanctions have failed to deter Iran, and it also wants to avoid angering Iranians protesting in the streets by depriving them of Western goods.
My God, is this what the reporters think concerns the protesters? That they can continue getting their supply of Paris fashions and Gallois cigarettes? Try getting to the real concern for the demonstrators: that these sanctions will undermine them politically in the eyes of the Iranian people.
Michael Slackman, a much more knowledgeable Times reporter has this far more intelligent comment on this issue also in today’s issue:
…Harsh sanctions over the nuclear program might actually be welcomed by some of Iran’s leaders as a device to help restore national unity. But…given the [government’s] repressive response to the protests and political opposition, it was not at all clear that such a tactic would work.
It appears, according to this report, that the Mossad has had a major success in debunking the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate which stated that Iran ended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The NIE drove Israel up the wall and if this report is correct, the Mossad has secured one of the crown jewels of its campaign for a hawkish response to Iran:
Mr. Obama’s top advisers say they no longer believe the key finding of a much disputed National Intelligence Estimate about Iran, published a year before President George W. Bush left office, which said that Iranian scientists ended all work on designing a nuclear warhead in late 2003.
Now, Israeli intelligence will hope and expect sanctions to fail (which they will) and that the U.S. will move to the next stage, which will be either a U.S. or Israeli attack on the nuclear plants. Watch this space for further developments.
” back off. Don’t do anything. Let events in Iran take their course. Hope the reform movement eventually gets the upper hand. Do what you can to help make that happen by laying off and making strong statements supporting human rights in that country.”
there is the chance that after the reform movement prevails, the current foreign policy and nuclear policy will continue, Sahimi said in your event as much, no? talking about a Japan like situation where a nuke is a few screw drives away, Israel’s (and the U.S. according to Obama’s strategists) main concerns are with that, and not the internal strife and human rights, harsh, but so is life.
“The problem with sanctions is that they are a policy which provides no climb-down mode for Iran. ”
Hoping for the best and just making statements provides a climb-down? they can backfire as surely as sanctions or military strikes against the nuclear sites.
Richard Silverstein says
No, Sahimi didn’t say precisely that. He said that every Iranian wants to pursue nuclear research as a matter of national pride. But not every Iranian wants a bomb. He said that the reform movement was more likely to come to an understanding with the west on enrichment. But he didn’t say they’d be a pushover or that they’d end enrichment.
So maybe it was Lustick who you described in your event post as saying:
“In fact, the reformers are the ones who are taking a harder line than Ahmadinejad regarding the nuclear talks with the west. So if we really support the former and want them to succeed, we have to recognize the possibility that the nuclear debate is a secondary issue to the more important question of who will control Iran in the long-term.”
Or maybe this is your take, in any case, that contradicts Sahimi’s take that “the reform movement was more likely to come to an understanding with the west on enrichment”.
Gene Schulman says
Ah, poor Rafi continues to gurgle on without contributing anything of value to the debate.
Barry, Hillary, Dennis and the rest of the Lobby are in control. Iran is in Israel’s cross hairs, and it won’t be long before the trigger is pulled. The demonstrations are merely prelude to a tragedy foretold.
Ashley kennedy says
Do sanctions work?
South Africa; However there was already a large section of South African society adversely effected by Apartheid.
Cuba, North Korea, Iraq, Gaza
Sanctions don’t work, even for those that think that sanctions are an option. All Obama’s talk of sanctions is therefore, as Richard states, for internal US consumption.