With the tightening of international sanctions on Iran’s oil industry, there are some hopeful signs the pain being inflicted on the Islamist regime may have serious repercussions. As Amotz Asa-El writes in the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, the continued fall of oil prices despite the cuts in Iranian exports is a hopeful sign as is the regime’s admission that their output is dropping. More importantly, the hyperinflation afflicting Iran’s economy is causing unrest in Tehran, raising hopes the sanctions are destabilizing the country and calling into question the ability of the ayatollah’s government to hang on. All this could generate another rebuke from the Iranian people at the next scheduled presidential election next year that would create even more problems than the revolt that popped up when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rigged the vote in 2009.
But optimism about the impact the sanctions will have on Iran is not the same thing as an assurance they cannot endure them. As the Iranian attitude during the three rounds of the P5+1 talks with the West has illustrated, the ayatollahs are still under the impression that the pain inflicted on their people will not be enough to either topple the regime or bring the country to a standstill. Though Iran’s feeble attempt to flex its muscles in response to the sanctions by threatening oil tanker traffic in the Gulf of Hormuz isn’t scaring anyone — least of all the United States which is reinforcing its own naval presence in the region to remind the Iranians of their weakness — there is no reason to assume their belief they can hang on while continuing their progress toward the nuclear goal is not valid.
Mitt Romney was roundly mocked in March by the mainstream media and many so-called foreign policy wise men for saying Russia was America’s top “geopolitical foe.” He was accused of attempting to revive the Cold War and an derided for his lack of understanding of international nuance by those who preferred President Obama’s much cooler approach to the regime of Vladimir Putin which has included a failed “reset” and a hot microphone promise by the president that he would be able to be more “flexible” in his second term in dealing with Russia’s demands. But three months later, with Russia sending missile defense systems to Syria, it would appear that Romney’s evaluation was right on target.
The announcement on Friday that Russia would be sending advanced missiles to the beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad was a body blow to those who have been trying to convince the world that Putin was prepared to play ball with the West. The missiles are intended to help Assad fend off any Western intervention in Syria as the dictator continues to repress dissent and slaughter his people. The move is troubling in of itself as it will embolden Assad to stand his ground against international pressure and make any intervention to stop the humanitarian crisis there much more difficult. But it also reveals what has long been obvious to anyone paying attention to Moscow’s foreign policy ambitions in the last decade. Putin’s goal is to reconstitute as far as possible the old Soviet sphere of influence in the Middle East. As far as he is concerned, the discussion about human rights in Syria is irrelevant. Syria is his client state, and like his Soviet predecessors, he is determined to preserve it at any cost, something that will also have serious implications for the West’s attempt to stop Iran’s nuclear program. If that isn’t a geopolitical foe for the United States, then what exactly would one look like?