Commentary Magazine


Impotent Measures Against Iran

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won grudging praise even from the Wall Street Journal editorial board for managing to reach agreement with China and Russia on a UN Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran. That accomplishment was touted as undercutting Iran’s attempts to avoid a fresh round of sanctions by agreeing to export some of its enriched uranium in a deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil. But now the details of the sanctions resolution are emerging and they are even worse than expected.

As the New York Times notes, “What is notably absent from the draft resolution, however, is any binding restriction on transactions with Iran’s central bank.” Nor is there any binding language limiting Iran’s oil trade, the basis of its entire rotten regime. As the Wall Street Journal notes: “The resolution — which followed 20 rounds of ‘hard bargaining,’ said Chinese diplomats quoted by the state-run Xinhua news agency — puts no direct restrictions on investing in Iran’s energy sector. That should allow Chinese oil companies to continue working in Iran, and China to continue consuming Iranian oil. Iran was the third-biggest supplier of oil to China last year after Saudi Arabia and Angola.” Oh, and the sanctions resolution even lacks a total ban on weapons sales to Iran.

That rather undercuts the Obama administration’s naive rationale for reaching out to the mullahs last year even as their own people were rebelling against them. The administration claimed that an outreach effort in good faith would make it easier to rally world opinion in favor of tough sanctions. Skeptics (myself included) were never convinced that countries like Russia and China would agree to binding sanctions under any circumstances. That skepticism certainly seems warranted now.

Given the weak nature of the latest sanctions resolution, one wonders, “What’s the point?” Certainly no serious analyst can possibly imagine that this will stop the Iranians from going nuclear. At most it provides a talking point for the administration to claim that it’s doing something about Iran’s nuclear program while in fact avoiding tough action – such as imposing sanctions on Shell, Total, and other Western oil companies that, according to the Wall Street Journal, continue to trade with Iran. Such sanctions are already possible under the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, which would be strengthened by legislation that has already passed both houses. But the Obama administration shows no interest in implementing such tough measures. Instead, we are left with empty posturing. One suspects that the president has already decided that a nuclear Iran is a done deal and that the U.S. should concentrate on containment and deterrence rather than on prevention. If so, I wish the White House would just come out and say so rather than pretending that this new sanctions resolution will achieve anything.