The announcement that 90 U.S. senators signed a letter to President Obama urging him to sanction Iran’s central bank has been described by some American officials, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon, as the “nuclear option” or, in the eyes of some Iranian officials, an act of war. But that hasn’t stopped some of Washington’s most outspoken Iran hawks from applauding potential legislation aimed at freezing Iran out of the global financial system.
The letter, cosponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Charles Schumer (D-NY), calls for blacklisting Bank Markazi, Iran’s central bank, and observes that, “If our allies are willing to join, we believe this step can be even more effective.”
But even advocates of ever tighter sanctions, like the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies‘ Mark Dubowitz, admit that getting U.S. allies to join in this extreme move will be difficult. Rubin quips: “The hang-up — no surprise — is that there is no — you got it! — international consensus.”
Rubin goes on to consult with Dubowitz who tells her:
When it comes to implementing tough measures to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program, there is no longer a “third rail” that should prevent us from trying any measure to squeeze the regime. The Obama administration must target Iran’s crude oil sales, designate the Central Bank of Iran, and sanction the Chinese, Indian and other companies that continue to do business in Iran’s energy sector. We don’t have time for half measures and slow, incremental changes.
Rubin and Dubowitz now warn that Iraq-like sanctions — those that caused infant mortality to increase more than three-fold in seven years — are the only way to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and avoiding a military confrontation, but just last week they were declaring the sanctions strategy dead. Dubowitz, quoted by Rubin, said on Thursday:
[The Iranians] are driving ruthlessly forward on their nuclear weapon program while we delude ourselves into thinking that sanctions are a silver bullet that will stop them. Sanctions are an important part of a comprehensive Iran policy that needs to include the real threat of force. Sanctions are an important part of a comprehensive Iran policy that needs to include the real threat of force.
The push for a risky, de facto oil embargo has been floated for the past few months but back in April, Dubowitz admitted that such extreme sanctions could have disastrous effects. Speaking on a Heritage Foundation panel, he said:
We’re playing very delicately with a very sensitive oil market and we have to be very careful not to shoot ourselves in the face by going after Iranian crude through an embargo or through the Iran crude oil sanctions act which sends a message to the markets that we’re going to take a million barrels of crude off line next week.
In June, the Atlantic Council’s Barbara Slavin told Think Progress that legislators pushing for ever tighter sanctions should be careful not to make the same mistakes the U.S. made with Iraq, an ineffective sanctions scheme which exacted a massive humanitarian toll. She said:
What they want is a stealth embargo. And they want it to be slow and quiet so it doesn’t cause shocks to the market, but that’s what they want.
If it starts to look like a total embargo, they will lose support. It starts to look like Iraq.
It’s worth remembering that while these calls for extreme sanctions against Iran are posited as a way to avoid military confrontation, the same coterie of neoconservative hawks never let up calling for military action against Iraq despite the draconian sanctions put in place.