Looking at the Obama administration’s “seeming unwillingness to pull the trigger on an Iran sanctions package that is already locked and loaded,” New Majority’s Jonathan Schanzer writes “The reason for the president’s ambivalence is clear“:
Gasoline sanctions only have the potential to cause a spike in Iran’s gasoline imports, and possibly weaken the regime. Even if IRPSA hits Iran in the pocketbook, as former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton notes, the Mullahs are not likely to change course. If he’s right, the enforcement and subsequent failure of sanctions would only reinforce the notion that military intervention may be the only viable option left.
Obama seems eager to postpone reaching this excruciating conclusion.
I suppose, if one were predisposed toward a US war with Iran, as Schanzer and Bolton clearly are, this would be a plausible explanation for the administration not “pulling the trigger” on new U.S. sanctions. Alternatively, you could actually take seriously what Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey actually said about this in last Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate Banking Committee.
Levey, who has been focused on the Iran sanctions issue since 2004, said that the administration wants to make sure that any sanctions package is “going to affect the decision making in Iran and not target” the population.
And similarly, to make sure that we — that we maximize the chance of getting international support for these things because there is obviously a risk in these things.
And if — if we do not have international support, that there’ll be diversions. There’ll be work-arounds, and the efficacy of the sanctions will not nearly be as effective.
Steinberg affirmed Levey’s view that making the sanctions a multilateral effort was key to making them effective:
I think part of it will be a judgment call as Undersecretary Levey has said about whether there’s a broad international consensus, whether this is seen as the international community taking an action so that it’s not the United States alone singling them out that I think we’ll have an impact on the political dynamic within Iran.
Reuters has a helpful compendium of existing U.S., UN and EU sanctions on Iran. NIAC’s David Elliot analyzed the serious problems with the IRPSA legislation here. It’s worth pointing out that the Obama administration has been doing a far better job than the Bush administration of enforcing and tightening existing sanctions.
There are real concerns whether any new sanctions — multilateral or not — would effectively curb Iran’s nuclear program. The AP reports that sanctions could strengthen Iran’s already powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), whose members have consolidated control over much of Iran’s economy over the last decade. In addition, “much of the smuggling of goods already banned by the U.S. into Iran — as well as alcohol and drugs for the black market — is run with at least implicit approval of the force, experts say. Under sanctions, the underground economy would increase and funnel more money to them.”
At a panel discussion on Capitol Hill earlier this month, Ken Pollack of the Brookings Institution said that he believed that by early next year “what the United States and our allies are going to be looking at is containment,” a long-term process of countering Iranian influence in the region, much as was done against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. “Implicit in the concept of containment, Pollack said “is the idea that there will be a change in regime over time.”
For a small hard-line conservative faction, however, the military option remains the most attractive, which suggests either that they haven’t seriously thought through the consequences of such a strike, or are really just crazy.