Commentary Magazine


Topic: Guard Corps

Obama’s Last Chance on Iran

There is reason to doubt whether at this late stage sanctions against Iran would be too little and too late to stop the revolutionary Islamic state from its pursuit of nuclear weapons. But Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz make the best case one can for sanctions, in the processing dispelling the notion that the newest Obami craze — targeted sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard Corps — have any hope of success. They argue:

Gasoline and insurance sanctions are just about all we’ve really got left in the quiver. The Guard Corps elite, who oversee Iran’s nuclear program, are too well protected to be seriously hurt by financial and industrial sanctions. Targeted sanctions have increased the cost of Iranians doing business, but there is little evidence to suggest that sanctions so far have ever moderated the behavior of Iran’s rulers.

The administration’s “smart-sanctions” approach perpetuates a myth about Iran’s politics that has crippled our analysis for years. Mr. Khamenei isn’t an economic rationalist. He wasn’t waiting for George W. Bush to depart to make peace with the United States. Men who talk about crushing the “enemies of God” won’t give up their enriched uranium because transaction costs have increased. The acquisition of the bomb is now probably inseparable from the ruling elite’s religious identity.

And so Gerecht and Dubowitz argue that sanctions have to be “crushing” to be a game changer. But contrary to the Obami’s excuse-mongering spin, it is the presence of the Green Revolution that should weigh in favor of touch sanctions. (“If sanctions are waged in the name of the Iranian people, we are much more likely to see Western opinion remain solidly behind them. These sentiments will likely be reinforced by prominent Iranian dissidents who’ve moved from adamant opposition to severe sanctions to hesitant acceptance of the idea [Nobel Prize winner Shireen Ebadi, for instance].”) The Obami, of course, argue that we can’t pursue the only reasonable means of stopping the regime, because we’ll offend and alienate the democracy advocates.

The Obami have, by a series of policy choices, made it more difficult to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. They lost a year in the folly of engagement. They failed to seize on the openings — first, the June 12 election, and then the revelation of the Qom enrichment site — to rally public opinion. They let deadline after deadline pass, signaling to the mullahs their unseriousness and lack of resolve. And now they’re going to great pains to water down serious sanctions, which may be the only chance, faint as it may be, to prevent the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons.

One can perceive in all this a lack of competence and judgment. Or one can cynically assume that they never intended to reach a point of confrontation with the regime and have banked all along on the hope of “containing” the regime after it obtained nuclear weapons. Either way, it’s a disaster for Israel and its neighbors, for the West, and for Obama’s own pipe dream of a world without nuclear weapons.

There is reason to doubt whether at this late stage sanctions against Iran would be too little and too late to stop the revolutionary Islamic state from its pursuit of nuclear weapons. But Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz make the best case one can for sanctions, in the processing dispelling the notion that the newest Obami craze — targeted sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard Corps — have any hope of success. They argue:

Gasoline and insurance sanctions are just about all we’ve really got left in the quiver. The Guard Corps elite, who oversee Iran’s nuclear program, are too well protected to be seriously hurt by financial and industrial sanctions. Targeted sanctions have increased the cost of Iranians doing business, but there is little evidence to suggest that sanctions so far have ever moderated the behavior of Iran’s rulers.

The administration’s “smart-sanctions” approach perpetuates a myth about Iran’s politics that has crippled our analysis for years. Mr. Khamenei isn’t an economic rationalist. He wasn’t waiting for George W. Bush to depart to make peace with the United States. Men who talk about crushing the “enemies of God” won’t give up their enriched uranium because transaction costs have increased. The acquisition of the bomb is now probably inseparable from the ruling elite’s religious identity.

And so Gerecht and Dubowitz argue that sanctions have to be “crushing” to be a game changer. But contrary to the Obami’s excuse-mongering spin, it is the presence of the Green Revolution that should weigh in favor of touch sanctions. (“If sanctions are waged in the name of the Iranian people, we are much more likely to see Western opinion remain solidly behind them. These sentiments will likely be reinforced by prominent Iranian dissidents who’ve moved from adamant opposition to severe sanctions to hesitant acceptance of the idea [Nobel Prize winner Shireen Ebadi, for instance].”) The Obami, of course, argue that we can’t pursue the only reasonable means of stopping the regime, because we’ll offend and alienate the democracy advocates.

The Obami have, by a series of policy choices, made it more difficult to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. They lost a year in the folly of engagement. They failed to seize on the openings — first, the June 12 election, and then the revelation of the Qom enrichment site — to rally public opinion. They let deadline after deadline pass, signaling to the mullahs their unseriousness and lack of resolve. And now they’re going to great pains to water down serious sanctions, which may be the only chance, faint as it may be, to prevent the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons.

One can perceive in all this a lack of competence and judgment. Or one can cynically assume that they never intended to reach a point of confrontation with the regime and have banked all along on the hope of “containing” the regime after it obtained nuclear weapons. Either way, it’s a disaster for Israel and its neighbors, for the West, and for Obama’s own pipe dream of a world without nuclear weapons.

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