mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Obama Gives the Sanctions Screw Another Twist


President Obama signed an executive order yesterday to levy a ninth round of sanctions on Iran, this time on the country’s currency and auto sector. The stated goal is to render the Iranian rial “unusuable” outside of Iran and to bring the country’s car industry to a grinding halt. But while the targets of these sanctions are new, the reasoning behind them is the same as it has been for the past three years. The FT reports:

The Obama administration said the measures were a continuation of its “dual track” policy to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. But even as it meted out new sanctions, the White House said “we hold the door open to a diplomatic solution that allows Iran to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their obligations”.

US-led sanctions are reportedly meeting the goal of choking off Iran’s economic arteries. Reports show that Iranian oil production has hit a quarter-century low, and major clients like China and Japan have cut their imports due to the sanctions. The rial has lost half its value since the beginning of last year, causing inflation to skyrocket and making basic goods largely unaffordable. The impact of sanctions have been felt far and wide—and the jump to full-scale economic warfare hasn’t even really been made yet. But the sanctions haven’t yet made ordinary Iranians so fed up with their economic situation that they rise up against the regime in sufficient numbers.

Despite this mixed track record, sanctions look like the more promising half of the President’s “dual-track” policy of sanctions and diplomacy. With its Middle East policy seemingly spinning out of control, the administration needs all the good news it can get.

As always, the President’s Iran policy is meant to avoid having to make the choice between accepting a nuclear Iran and going to war to prevent one. Here’s to hoping this latest twist of the screws gets us closer to that goal.

[Barack Obama photo courtesy of Shutterstock. Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.]

Features Icon
show comments
  • Luke Lea

    These are the kinds of things we (in the West) should do everywhere to establish civilized norms around the world. Our collective economic strength, if used wisely, is our greatest asset.

    • bpuharic

      I’m in the process of reading a rather excellent book on US foreign policy by a guy named “Walter Russell Mead”, called “Special Providence”. He says US policy over the centuries has been both fairly wise and successful compared to our sophisticated European counterparts. I see no reason why Obama’s reluctance to make US commitments to regime change in Iran aren’t part of this wisdom tradition

  • Alexander Scipio

    I always am intrigued by those who prefer sanctions to actually doing something about the state being sanctioned. Those who would put sanctions over war misunderstand the nature of sanctions. Many studies have demonstrated that sanctions are far harder on a country than is a war. Who and what are hurt via sanctions? Women, children, infrastructure, education, health. Who is not affected by sanction? The military and civilian leaders who created the policy against which the sanctions have been placed. War, on the other hand, in recent history (the same recent history in which serious sanctions have been tried), results in fewer lives lost among the civilian population, less economic hardship over time, and a more-rapidly-repaired infrastructure. In short, if you care about your enemy’s populace, you fight him; if you don’t care about your enemy’s populace, you sanction him.

    • bpuharic

      How many dead US troops do we have as a result of Iranian sanctions?

      How many dead US troops do we have as a result of the Iraq war?

      And it’s not a matter of ‘caring’ about the ‘enemy’s population’. It’s a recognition of the limits of the capability of war to change a situation.

      • Alexander Scipio

        You assume that the only alternative to sacntions is war. I didn’t write that. I just noted the uselessness of sanctions. As far as I am concerned, the ME is the business of the ME and I could not care less HOW many muislims kill other muslims as they continue their millennia-old war with each other. It is NONE of our business.

        • bpuharic

          That’s a fair point, but what IS the alternative to sanctions?

          And, as sad as it is to say, I agree with you about Muslims. Perhaps my worldview is shaped by my atheism, but Islam, even among other religions, seems extraordinarily degenerate both philosophically and in terms of practice. Perhaps some day that will change but religion is a self defeating exercise.

          • Alexander Scipio

            I’d argue that rather than look for an alternative to sanctions, one look at the goal of sanctions or any other alternative. A nation decides that it has an opponents based upon behavior – Nation B doing something Nation A dislikes. Nation A has several alternatives – ignore (Rwanda), sanction (Iran), limited war (refusing to fight to win, wasting lives on both sides – Korea, Vietnam), and war (WW2). ONE alternative open to Nation A – and ONLY one – achieves the goal of altering the behavior of the enemy: War. By this I mean what is called in military circles “Total War.” It is the ONLY alternative that acutally achieves the goal of behaiovr change. None of the others do, and all of the others result in loss of life – without changing the behavior; as such all other choices sacrifice lives on both sides in vain. 30,000+ Americans died in Korea to achieve… status quo ante. 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam to achieve… status quo ante that became a loss when COngress refused to fund the treaty they signed. Thousands are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan – yet we don’t want to win, so they are dying for nothing at all. If we go into Syria – thousands more will die for no reason whatsoever. If we want to change behavior, we must go to war – real war, total war. A military is a policy tool of a country. One doesn’t win a war by killing the policy tool. One wins a war by killing the country, as we did with Imperial Japan and NAZI Germany – both of which have been peaceful, prosperous, military, political and econmic allies since. And if we don’t care enough about the behavior of an opponent, we have no business getting involved – at all – and certainly no business killing and dying.

  • ljgude

    I would be extremely surprised if Obama is serious about stopping Iran’s development of nukes or that sanctions will ever work with the Iranian regime. So surprise me, Obama. I think it is a lot more likely that the Syrian situation will come unstuck and Israel will be forced to get involved militarily. which may also involve Iran directly. Israel, a country with a real intelligence agency, has already demonstrated that it will act militarily when its interests are threatened. Since the US administration does not see its interests threatened it is not going to act. The Islamists will continue to prosecute the war actively against each other, against Israel and against the US. Therefore it follows as the night the day that Israel will be involved in a shooting war in the Middle East before the US. Or the Euros.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service