Commentary Magazine


Not the One the Country Thought It Knew

Perhaps Iran should be worried: the administration’s new position is that Iran is not the country Barack Obama thought he knew. It is an incipient military dictatorship — much worse than the brutal Islamist theocracy with an unfortunate slogan (“Death to America”) that he had hoped to engage. Its seat on the Obama diplomatic bus may be in danger.

The good news for the regime, however, is that the corollary to the new Obama perspective is that sanctions will be targeted only at the assets and business of the troublesome “military wing,” not at the broader Iranian economy or the regime itself, and thus are virtually guaranteed to fail. The sanctions – even assuming they are actually enacted, implemented, and enforced – will be much less stringent than the ones that did not work in Cuba, have not worked in North Korea, and generated a profit for Saddam Hussein.

Several weeks ago, the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, discussing his pending legislation for broad-based sanctions, noted that there are “no sanctions strong enough to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course that would not impinge on the quality of life of average Iranians.” The administration does not even purport that its targeted sanctions would be “crippling” — a word that has disappeared from its vocabulary.

President Obama has yet to deliver the “tough, direct message to Iran” that one of the presidential candidates in the October 7, 2008, debate proposed: “If you don’t change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences,” starting with crippling sanctions – “never taking military options off the table” or providing “veto power to the United Nations or anyone else in acting in our interests”:

… if we can impose the kinds of sanctions that, say, for example, Iran right now imports gasoline, even though it’s an oil-producer, because its oil infrastructure has broken down, if we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on them.

The candidate who promised that approach was Barack Obama, less than a month before he was elected. Sixteen months later, he can no longer muster even the rhetoric, much less the reality, of what he promised. He does not appear to be the person the country thought it knew.