Commentary Magazine


Uh Oh, Here Come the “Smart” Sanctions

Whenever diplomats use the word ”smart” these days, something dumb is going on. From the START-signing ceremony, AP reports:

Looming over the celebration was Iran, which in the face of international pressures continues to assert that its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful purposes, not for weapons as suspected. Six powers — the US Russia, Britain, France, Germany and now China — are in talks in New York about a fourth set of United Nations sanctions to pressure Iran into compliance.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to this,” Medvedev said in a show of solidarity. But he said he was frank with Obama about how far Russia was willing to go, favoring only what he called “smart” sanctions that might have hope of changing behavior.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov later elaborated by saying, for example, that Russia would not endorse a total embargo on the delivery of refined petroleum products into Iran. Such products might be targeted in other ways, or sanctions on Iran’s energy sector might be avoided altogether to avoid running into deal-breaking opposition from Russia or China.

Like the Obami’s “smart” diplomacy, there is nothing “smart” about nibbling sanctions that don’t present the mullahs with a real choice: their own political survival or the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Only when the former is put at risk by severe sanctions and/or other pressure will they give up the latter. The Russians have apparently been enlisted in (or is it the other way around?) Obama’s scheme to go through the motions of sanctions, without any serious hope of affecting the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. This is simply engagement in another guise — a grand stall putting off the moment when the U.S. must finally decide if “unacceptable” is really all that unacceptable.