I was on HuffPostLive this morning with Abby Huntsman to discuss the latest round of European sanctions on Iran and the general efficacy of the sanctions regime. You can click the image below to watch the rather lively debate (I begin at around the 8:00 min mark). I want to take the opportunity, though, to frame my views on this subject a little more fully than I was able to on air.
The Obama administration has organized the most restrictive multilateral sanctions regime in Iranian history as part of a larger strategy which has proven to be about as successful as one could hope. While the human suffering in Iran is real and tragic, sanctions are hardly the sole culprit. The Iranian government has demonstrated incompetent management of their economic and healthcare systems for decades. Sanctions have contributed to this mismanagement to be sure, but the restrictions are a result of the Iranian government’s unwillingness to live up to their responsibilities to the international community. The terminal goal of sanctions is not to spread misery, it is to advance a multifaceted strategy aimed at:
- Isolating the government, banks, and companies in Iran from export, commercial, and diplomatic ties
- Containing their ability to project destabilizing regional influence that would be at odds with US interests
- Destabilizing the government and economy through denying access to foreign currency reserves, foreign direct investment, and oil refining capacity
- Gaining leverage for the United States and its allies to bring Iran to the bargaining table and put them in a position where they are highly incentivized to accept limits on their nuclear program and to meet international compliance and monitoring obligations
- Motivating the Iranian middle class, and perhaps more importantly, the influential Iranian business class to get off the bench and realize that continued support for the extant regime in Tehran will only lead to privation and isolation
Objective analysis reveals that by these standards, the current policy has been quite successful. There are those who contend that pure diplomacy is the answer, but that was the Obama Administration’s first move. It was, in fact, Tehran’s rejection of Obama’s attempted “diplomatic opening” that convinced many of America’s ambivalent allies that sanctions were the best option. For those who wisely believe a military attack on Iran to be a very bad course likely to lead to many unintended consequences, the current sanctions and containment regime continues to be the most appealing policy.
Update: Nima Shirazi – who blogs at http://www.wideasleepinamerica.com/ - pointed out that during this segment I refer to an “Iranian nuclear weapons program.” I should make clear that it is my view, one shared by US and Israeli intelligence assessments, that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapons program and has not made a decision to actively pursue the creation of a nuclear weapon. Their continued enrichment would, though, make it easier and faster for them to develop a weapons program if they decide to and is a prerequisite for doing so. In fact, the difference between developing a nuclear weapon and merely having a “nuclear weapons capability” is the crucial distinction between the US and Israeli declared red lines. In the end, the only way for the international community to understand with confidence the true nature of the Iranian nuclear program is for Tehran to agree to full-access and transparent international monitoring.