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Re: No Time for Attrition

Writing yesterday on sanctions against Iran, Abe Greenwald wisely noted that

If time is so limited, why aren’t the mullahs sanctioned and embargoed to the hilt in one sweep? We cross our fingers and speculate about falling oil prices destabilizing the Islamic Republic enough to get them to deal. Yet we have the means to fast-forward collapse and we never use it. Steadily increasing sanctions only helps Iran inure itself to deprivation as it enriches material and builds proscribed weapons. One absolute shock to the country’s economy would constitute a crisis. Any infinitesimal hope of a diplomatic breakthrough would only stand a chance of fruition in the wake of such a national trauma. What’s happening now is just failure in slow motion.

Abe is right –an all-out approach would bring Tehran to its knees very quickly. But even gradualism has its merits –including the fact that it cohabits better with political constraints– if it is pursued diligently. The problem is that some of our allies are furiously pedaling against the stream, ensuring that even the limited sanctions so far in place fail to bite.Consider this: Italy’s ministry of foreign affairs, in conjunction with the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade (ICE), has recently released a report on trade with Iran. According to Italy’s President, Italy has reduced its exports to Iran in compliance with sanctions. So he said during a recent visit to Jerusalem in late November, when he announced that Italian exports had dropped by 22 percent in one year. Not so, says ICE:

It is worth highlighting that in the first five months of 2008 one registers a significant increase of Italian exports to Iran in comparison to the same period in 2007 (+35.8%), which confirms an already clear trend from the last months of 2007. In the same period there was a reduction of imports from Iran of about 17 percent.

But despair not the Italians are not alone in trying to reverse the trend:

Eurostat data about EU exports to Iran in the first five months of 2008 show an 18% increase over the same period in 2007. The most important increases are reported by Italy, followed by Germany and France.

An all-out approach would work much better, no doubt. But if only our allies took their commitments seriously instead of talking the talk but not walking the walk, perhaps even gradualism could make a dent.


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