Now that the United Nations Security Council has passed a new round of sanctions against Iran, we can expect a degree of self-congratulation from the Obama administration, which has been working toward this goal for many months. But it is no secret that the package passed by a vote of 12-to-2 with one abstention (Brazil and Turkey voted no while Lebanon abstained) and does little to make life more difficult for Iran or to hamper its ongoing quest for nuclear capability.
The sanctions make life a bit more difficult for 40 Iranians involved in the nuclear program, who had been mentioned in previous resolutions, by freezing their assets and banning their travel. Only one name was added to the list, Javad Rahiqi, the head of the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center. There is also language about requiring countries to inspect ships or planes headed to or from Iran if they suspect that banned cargo is aboard, but there is no authorization to board ships by force at sea. Iran is now also not allowed to invest in nuclear-enrichment plants, uranium mines, and related technology. The sale of heavy weapons to Iran is also now banned.
But as a result of many months of haggling with Russia and China, who gave only reluctant backing to these sanctions, Iran’s oil, financial, and insurance industries — which are all highly vulnerable to international pressure — were left untouched. As the New York Times noted today, the European Union — America’s supposed ally in the campaign to restrain Tehran’s nuclear plans — alone does more than $35 billion in business with Iran. The amount of trade between Iran and China — whose vote in favor of the mild measure just passed was bought by American concessions that watered down the same sanctions — exceeds that amount. China gets 11 percent of its oil from the Islamist regime. And as the Times reported in a feature last week, Iran’s ability to evade sanctions with shell companies and by having their ships registered under foreign flags has made a mockery of the world body’s previous attempts to sanction it.
So, like the three previous rounds of UN sanctions on Iran, we can expect this latest one to have no impact on either Iran’s willingness to buck global displeasure over the nuclear issue or its ability to proceed with its plans.
All of which leaves us asking the Obama administration, what now?
In theory, the new UN sanctions could prompt the United States and other Western powers to unilaterally impose far harsher sanctions by themselves. But that move will take even more months of negotiations and would almost certainly not include Russia and China, countries that have played a major role in enabling the Iranians to avoid paying the price for their nuclear ambitions. With force off the table and little hope of a truly crippling round of international sanctions, what does Iran have to worry about?
Though the administration is busily spinning recent developments as proof that the year they wasted trying to engage Iran helped build support for sanctions, the fact remains that Iran is not only a year closer to its nuclear goal but also in a stronger political and diplomatic position today than it was 12 months ago. Having completely suppressed domestic opponents in the wake of their stolen presidential election, the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime can also now point to the acquisition of two important foreign allies: Brazil and Turkey, both of whom are now firmly in Iran’s camp. And those two countries can say that the mischief they are making on Iran’s behalf is no different from what President Obama tried to do himself during his long unsuccessful attempt to appease Tehran.
Just as bad is the fact that over the past year, Obama has allowed the Iranians and their friends to establish a false moral equivalence between their nuclear program and that of the State of Israel, a country whose very existence requires a nuclear deterrent that Iran’s does not. The United States’s vote last week in favor of a resolution at the UN nonproliferation conference, which called on Israel to open up its nuclear facilities, is a clear signal that the Obama administration’s faltering resolve on Iran is matched by its ambivalence about the Jewish state and its security needs.
The bottom line is that far from today’s UN vote being a cause for celebration or even satisfaction over the fact that the world is finally paying attention to the threat of a nuclear Iran, it may well be a better indication of the West’s slide toward ultimate acquiescence to Iran’s goals.