Push For ‘Crippling Economic Sanctions’ May Strengthen Iranian Government, Hurt Ordinary Iranians

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) eagerly awaited report on Iran’s nuclear program delivered few surprises and, while offering details of a number of dual-use technologies under development in Iran, did not assert that Iran had resumed a full-scale nuclear weapons program. Eager to capitalize on the media coverage of the IAEA report, congressional hawks are pushing to impose “crippling” sanctions on the Iranian central bank, a step that would have devastating economic and political effects in Iran and, potentially, send oil prices skyrocketing.

The White House indicates that such measures are “not really currently on the table” but some of the more right-wing voices in Washington are eager to impose such drastic sanctions.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who has threatened to “take food out of the mouths” of Iranians, issued a statement on Monday, announcing he will lead a bipartisan campaign of 92 senators to enact sanctions against Bank Markazi, Iran’s central bank.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) issued a statement saying:

Time is short and options are limited. Last week, I proposed moving forward and sanctioning the very core of Iran’s financing of its nuclear program: the Central Bank of Iran. I urge President Obama to make the Central Bank of Iran’s proliferation activity the target of coordinated multilateral sanctions.

And GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that, as president, he would impose “crippling economic sanctions” on Iran’s central bank.

But a closer look at what central bank sanctions might entail raises serious questions.

Central bank sanctions may disrupt oil markets and damage U.S. and global economic recoveries; weaken multilateral sanctions efforts if U.S. allies are unwilling to sign on; and extract a shocking humanitarian toll on ordinary Iranian civilians.


In fact, central bank sanctions may run counter to U.S. interests and actually strengthen the Iranian regime. Mehdi Karroubi, an influential reformist politician in Iran, warns that “sanctions have given an excuse to the government to suppress the opposition by blaming them for the unstable situation in the country,” and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria writes, “[Sanctions’] basic effect has been to weaken civil society and strengthen the state — the opposite of what we should be trying to do in that country.”

Proponents of central bank sanctions say that it is the only way to prevent a nuclear armed Iran and a military confrontation. But the reality is that central bank sanctions have a bad track record of failing to achieve their aims and, according to University of Chicago Professor Robert Pape, “economic sanctions are often a prelude to using military force.”