Last night on Fox, neoconservative saint Charles Krauthammer made clear again that he doesn’t actually understand how the Obama administration’s Iran policy is intended to work. Responding to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement of the administration’s goal of using sanctions to target Iran’s regime, not its people, Krauthammer derided the administration’s approach as a “farce”:
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, the farce continues. And to hear Hillary speak again about smarter sanctions and smarter ways, smart diplomacy, this is sort of comic arrogance on the part of the administration which has had a disastrous year in terms of Iran and still speaks of how smart it is.
Its idea is that we are going to try to target the leaders instead of the people. The Bush administration attempted that, but it’s almost impossible. And it doesn’t succeed anyway. [...]
If you are going to impose unilateral sanctions, others will take our place. I’ll give you one example. We prevailed in 2007 on the UAE to stop acting as the middle country in transactions with Iran. And it did. Immediately Hong Kong and Malaysia picked up.
So unless you have universal sanctions, extremely strong, cutting off gasoline, really targeting everything important, nothing is going to happen.
The administration knows all of this, and the lassitude which it’s acting — the pressure track is on, the engagement is on, which means nothing. Nothing is going to happen. This administration has accepted the fact of an Iranian bomb and it is prepared to do practically nothing except kabuki.
As boldly as Krauthammer asserts the effectiveness of “universal sanctions,” you’d think there might be a few Iran experts who actually agree. There aren’t. In fact, as Brookings Institution Iran analyst Suzanne Maloney noted last December in testimony (pdf) to the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, past history indicates that sanctions targeting Iran’s population are more likely to have a unifying effect. “The Islamic Republic has experienced a number of episodes of severe economic pressure,” Maloney said, “but none have generated the kind of foreign policy moderation that the sponsors of ILSA, IRPSA or any of the other manifold punitive measures against Tehran sanguinely forecast.”
MALONEY: Rather, past periods of external pressure on Iran have facilitated the coalescence of the regime and the consolidation of its public support, and economic constraint has generated enhanced cooperation among Iran’s bickering factions. Tight purse strings have forced moderation of Iran’s economic policies but only rarely of its political dynamics.
Measures of the sort that Krauthammer recommends would offer Iran’s hardliners a powerful propaganda lifeline, potentially facilitating greater regime consolidation right at the moment that the conservative consensus around Ahmadinejad is showing evidence of cracking up. This is probably one reason why Green movement leaders and other Iranian dissidents continue to oppose them, while supporting the targeted sanctions that Krauthammer dismisses.
While it’s quite right that multilateral sanctions offer the only possible hope for changing Iran’s strategic calculations, it’s important to remember that President Bush’s failure to cultivate the necessary international unity to enact such sanctions was in no small part the result of international anger generated by his pursuing an arrogant and destructive set of policies — policies full-throatedly advocated by Charles Krauthammer, among others. The only reason we’re talking realistically about such a coalition now is because the Presidnet Obama has renounced them, and sought to re-engage the international community more as a constructive partner and less as a preening hegemon. The real farce is that a consistently wrong blowhard like Krauthammer continues to be treated as a serious voice on foreign policy.