Commentary Magazine


Topic: Assad regime

Don’t Assume Embargo Will Make Iran Fold

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.

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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.

The European oil embargo, which has been belatedly imposed in an effort to deter Israel from acting on its own to stop the Iranian nuclear threat, may well be feeding unrest in the streets of Tehran. But to assume that unhappiness about the country’s economy will translate into a willingness on the part of the regime to give up its nuclear ambitions requires a leap of faith not backed up by any evidence other than the hopes of Western onlookers. As the Islamist leaders of Iran showed in 2009, they are perfectly willing to use violence on their own people to repress dissent, and there is no sign they have weakened in their resolve. If anything, their backing of the massacres being carried out in Syria to prop up the government of their ally Bashar al-Assad ought to remind foreign observers that optimism about the demise of such regimes is unjustified.

For all of the hardships being inflicted on Iran, it should be remembered the sanctions are far from airtight, as even previous weaker measures were often unenforced by Western governments. Even this far more serious attempt to choke off the oil exports that keep the country afloat is being undermined by the waivers granted by the Obama administration to China and India that now buy 22 and 13 percent of Iran’s oil exports. As the Journal noted in an editorial, “thanks to lobbying by the Obama Administration, the sanctions law contained several loopholes you could drive a warhead through. ” It may be these countries will, as Asa-El hopes, eventually drop their business with Tehran. But given the good rates they are getting from the Iranians, there is every reason to believe this outlet will continue to exist and give the regime enough cash to limp along.

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Russia Confirms Romney’s Evaluation

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?

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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?

The missiles and the lack of a Western response to this provocation will confirm Assad in his opinion that he has nothing to lose by continuing to ruthlessly exterminate his domestic opposition. He has rightly discerned that Russian weapons as well as the material support from his allies in Iran and their Lebanese Hezbollah auxiliaries means more than all the crocodile tears being shed for the Syrian people in Washington and Western European capitals. International opprobrium is no match for a determined and bloodthirsty ruler with the backing of allies such as these.

But the consequences of Putin’s virtual guarantee of Assad’s survival are more serious than the prospect of the continuance of his family’s decades-long reign of terror. By re-planting its flag in the Middle East in this fashion, Russia is sending a message that it is willing to brutally thwart Western interests and sensibilities. This should also sober up those expecting Putin to put his weight behind Western efforts to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. With a third round of negotiations of the P5+1 group with Iran set to resume this week in Moscow, there is little doubt that the Russians (along with the Chinese) will not allow the Iranians to be backed into a corner. Though they have good reason to fear an Iranian nuke, Russia’s foreign policy imperative is always to sabotage America’s interests.

After the comical failures of appeasement of Russia that have been the hallmark of the Obama administration’s approach to Europe, it seems as if Romney is far more realistic about the Putin regime than either President Obama or Secretary of State Clinton. Though Democrats assume that they have the advantage on foreign policy against the Republicans, Putin’s provocations are a reminder that an alternative to the current approach to his regime is needed.

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