Writing in IPS News, Barbara Slavin suggests that domestic political concerns were a key impetus behind the latest round of U.S. sanctions against Iran:
“The administration is trying to buy off Congress, buy off pressure from Israel and make sure nothing will further erode the president’s chances for re-election,” Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told IPS.
If the latest measure was more of an attempt to appease and garner support from key voting blocs than to change Iran’s behavior, the political impasse between the two countries is likely to continue while the hawkish trend against Iran in Congress progresses. Slavin continues:
Maloney said, however, that the latest punitive measures would not be sufficient to change Iran’s posture, particularly at a time of fractious internal politics.
“If anything, this will reinforce paranoia in Tehran that this is all about regime change,” she said. She expressed concern that there is “no adult supervision” of Iran policy in the Obama administration and that “no one is thinking ahead” about the consequences of further weakening the Iranian economy.
Continuously implementing punitive measures against Iran that are unlikely to produce different results begs the question of whether sanctions are even effective. This Monday Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner said that “intensification of sanctions by this Administration” with multilateral support “has inflicted substantial damage to the Iranian economy.” But how does the U.S. measure success and what is the strategy behind sanctions other than imposing maximum hardship upon the Iranian government?
Earlier this week Harvard University’s Stephen Walt and the National American Iranian Council’s Trita Parsi discussed the U.S.’s Iran sanctions policy on NPR. While noting that “there is in fact no reason to believe that Iran is actively seeking a nuclear weapon at this time,” Walt argued that the U.S. should be trying to “convince them not to cross that particular line” using different methods including the “diplomatic option” which has not been utilized effectively thus far. Painting Iran as a nuclear threat prematurely can be a self-fulfilling prophecy:
The thing that makes countries want to pursue some kind of nuclear deterrent is precisely the fact that they feel threatened. We’ve been trying these sort of sanctions and what I would call a sort of occasional not-very-enthusiastic diplomacy for over a decade now and with no apparent success. Maybe this is a time when we ought to be trying an alternative, and by that alternative I don’t mean going to war.
Parsi also said that U.S. sanctions against Iran are creating frustration toward the U.S. among Iranians who disagree with their government’s policies:
It’s not really differentiating between an activity undertaken by the revolutionary guard or an activity taking place by an ordinary citizen. So everyone is being hit by it. And it’s not led to the type of situation in which people will say oh, we have to rise up against the regime because these sanctions are so difficult. On the contrary, the effect that you’re starting to see is that people are saying you all know, the entire world know that we’re not happy with this government, so why are you putting pressure on the people? You should be putting pressure on the regime. Instead, the people are being punished, and now you’re starting to increasingly see that they’re starting to vent some of their frustrations towards the United States and not just towards the regime.
Both Walt and Parsi seemed to agree that if the U.S. really doesn’t want Iran to get nuclear weapons, it has to change it’s approach to the Islamic Republic sooner rather than later.