Commentary Magazine


Topic: insurance sanctions

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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Any Hope for a Change in Iran Policy?

On Fox News Sunday, the roundtable discussed Obama’s Iran policy. Indeed, none of the participants was exactly sure there is an Iran policy, or if there were, who is making it. What is clear is that we have an opening to do something more productive than the kabuki dance of engagement with the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency report. Bill Kristol inquired:

“If the Obama administration is serious about stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, we now have the authoritative international agency, which in the past has been somewhat hostile to U.S. analysis, now explicitly saying they have, as Susan Rice, our U.N. ambassador, said, been flouting their international obligations. And then the question is simply is the administration going to get serious, or are we going to — is our response to their past flouting of international obligations to — let’s have some more international obligations, let’s spend months getting a meaningless resolution through the Security Council, or let’s spent months even working on very targeted, limited sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard corps, or are we going to be serious about doing gasoline sanctions and insurance sanctions, the two that would really make a big difference on Iran? And are we going to be serious about helping the Green Movement there possibly topple the regime?”

Most who have followed the Obama administration’s excuse-filled year of do-nothingness have a sinking feeling that the Obami won’t push for serious sanctions or make an effort to get behind the Green Movement. The most recent indications (especially the bizarrely counterproductive comments that we won’t consider military force) suggest the Obami are in the mode of doing the least possible so as to not be accused of doing absolutely nothing. But, they are doing nothing that might actually set back the Iranian nuclear program.

Mara Liasson on the roundtable senses we are evolving toward a “much tougher, more confrontational, you know, Hillary Clinton-esque approach to Iran.” Unfortunately, it was Clinton who took the potential for military force off the table, and it has been Clinton talking in circles about engagement. So if we’re now banking on Clinton to devise a robust, regime-change, sanctions-serious alternative to engagement, I think we’re bound to be disappointed. Because, you know, the Hillary Clinton-esque approach, like the James Jones approach, is pretty much the Barack Obama approach. That is and will remain, I would suggest, one of conflict avoidance at all costs. And the cost will be huge if, in fact, Obama presides over an enfeebled policy that allows Iran to go nuclear.

On Fox News Sunday, the roundtable discussed Obama’s Iran policy. Indeed, none of the participants was exactly sure there is an Iran policy, or if there were, who is making it. What is clear is that we have an opening to do something more productive than the kabuki dance of engagement with the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency report. Bill Kristol inquired:

“If the Obama administration is serious about stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, we now have the authoritative international agency, which in the past has been somewhat hostile to U.S. analysis, now explicitly saying they have, as Susan Rice, our U.N. ambassador, said, been flouting their international obligations. And then the question is simply is the administration going to get serious, or are we going to — is our response to their past flouting of international obligations to — let’s have some more international obligations, let’s spend months getting a meaningless resolution through the Security Council, or let’s spent months even working on very targeted, limited sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard corps, or are we going to be serious about doing gasoline sanctions and insurance sanctions, the two that would really make a big difference on Iran? And are we going to be serious about helping the Green Movement there possibly topple the regime?”

Most who have followed the Obama administration’s excuse-filled year of do-nothingness have a sinking feeling that the Obami won’t push for serious sanctions or make an effort to get behind the Green Movement. The most recent indications (especially the bizarrely counterproductive comments that we won’t consider military force) suggest the Obami are in the mode of doing the least possible so as to not be accused of doing absolutely nothing. But, they are doing nothing that might actually set back the Iranian nuclear program.

Mara Liasson on the roundtable senses we are evolving toward a “much tougher, more confrontational, you know, Hillary Clinton-esque approach to Iran.” Unfortunately, it was Clinton who took the potential for military force off the table, and it has been Clinton talking in circles about engagement. So if we’re now banking on Clinton to devise a robust, regime-change, sanctions-serious alternative to engagement, I think we’re bound to be disappointed. Because, you know, the Hillary Clinton-esque approach, like the James Jones approach, is pretty much the Barack Obama approach. That is and will remain, I would suggest, one of conflict avoidance at all costs. And the cost will be huge if, in fact, Obama presides over an enfeebled policy that allows Iran to go nuclear.

Read Less




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