Commentary Magazine


Topic: refined petroleum products

Uh Oh, Here Come the “Smart” Sanctions

Whenever diplomats use the word ”smart” these days, something dumb is going on. From the START-signing ceremony, AP reports:

Looming over the celebration was Iran, which in the face of international pressures continues to assert that its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful purposes, not for weapons as suspected. Six powers — the US Russia, Britain, France, Germany and now China — are in talks in New York about a fourth set of United Nations sanctions to pressure Iran into compliance.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to this,” Medvedev said in a show of solidarity. But he said he was frank with Obama about how far Russia was willing to go, favoring only what he called “smart” sanctions that might have hope of changing behavior.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov later elaborated by saying, for example, that Russia would not endorse a total embargo on the delivery of refined petroleum products into Iran. Such products might be targeted in other ways, or sanctions on Iran’s energy sector might be avoided altogether to avoid running into deal-breaking opposition from Russia or China.

Like the Obami’s “smart” diplomacy, there is nothing “smart” about nibbling sanctions that don’t present the mullahs with a real choice: their own political survival or the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Only when the former is put at risk by severe sanctions and/or other pressure will they give up the latter. The Russians have apparently been enlisted in (or is it the other way around?) Obama’s scheme to go through the motions of sanctions, without any serious hope of affecting the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. This is simply engagement in another guise — a grand stall putting off the moment when the U.S. must finally decide if “unacceptable” is really all that unacceptable.

Whenever diplomats use the word ”smart” these days, something dumb is going on. From the START-signing ceremony, AP reports:

Looming over the celebration was Iran, which in the face of international pressures continues to assert that its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful purposes, not for weapons as suspected. Six powers — the US Russia, Britain, France, Germany and now China — are in talks in New York about a fourth set of United Nations sanctions to pressure Iran into compliance.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to this,” Medvedev said in a show of solidarity. But he said he was frank with Obama about how far Russia was willing to go, favoring only what he called “smart” sanctions that might have hope of changing behavior.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov later elaborated by saying, for example, that Russia would not endorse a total embargo on the delivery of refined petroleum products into Iran. Such products might be targeted in other ways, or sanctions on Iran’s energy sector might be avoided altogether to avoid running into deal-breaking opposition from Russia or China.

Like the Obami’s “smart” diplomacy, there is nothing “smart” about nibbling sanctions that don’t present the mullahs with a real choice: their own political survival or the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Only when the former is put at risk by severe sanctions and/or other pressure will they give up the latter. The Russians have apparently been enlisted in (or is it the other way around?) Obama’s scheme to go through the motions of sanctions, without any serious hope of affecting the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. This is simply engagement in another guise — a grand stall putting off the moment when the U.S. must finally decide if “unacceptable” is really all that unacceptable.

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Not the One the Country Thought It Knew

Perhaps Iran should be worried: the administration’s new position is that Iran is not the country Barack Obama thought he knew. It is an incipient military dictatorship — much worse than the brutal Islamist theocracy with an unfortunate slogan (“Death to America”) that he had hoped to engage. Its seat on the Obama diplomatic bus may be in danger.

The good news for the regime, however, is that the corollary to the new Obama perspective is that sanctions will be targeted only at the assets and business of the troublesome “military wing,” not at the broader Iranian economy or the regime itself, and thus are virtually guaranteed to fail. The sanctions – even assuming they are actually enacted, implemented, and enforced – will be much less stringent than the ones that did not work in Cuba, have not worked in North Korea, and generated a profit for Saddam Hussein.

Several weeks ago, the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, discussing his pending legislation for broad-based sanctions, noted that there are “no sanctions strong enough to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course that would not impinge on the quality of life of average Iranians.” The administration does not even purport that its targeted sanctions would be “crippling” — a word that has disappeared from its vocabulary.

President Obama has yet to deliver the “tough, direct message to Iran” that one of the presidential candidates in the October 7, 2008, debate proposed: “If you don’t change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences,” starting with crippling sanctions – “never taking military options off the table” or providing “veto power to the United Nations or anyone else in acting in our interests”:

… if we can impose the kinds of sanctions that, say, for example, Iran right now imports gasoline, even though it’s an oil-producer, because its oil infrastructure has broken down, if we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on them.

The candidate who promised that approach was Barack Obama, less than a month before he was elected. Sixteen months later, he can no longer muster even the rhetoric, much less the reality, of what he promised. He does not appear to be the person the country thought it knew.

Perhaps Iran should be worried: the administration’s new position is that Iran is not the country Barack Obama thought he knew. It is an incipient military dictatorship — much worse than the brutal Islamist theocracy with an unfortunate slogan (“Death to America”) that he had hoped to engage. Its seat on the Obama diplomatic bus may be in danger.

The good news for the regime, however, is that the corollary to the new Obama perspective is that sanctions will be targeted only at the assets and business of the troublesome “military wing,” not at the broader Iranian economy or the regime itself, and thus are virtually guaranteed to fail. The sanctions – even assuming they are actually enacted, implemented, and enforced – will be much less stringent than the ones that did not work in Cuba, have not worked in North Korea, and generated a profit for Saddam Hussein.

Several weeks ago, the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, discussing his pending legislation for broad-based sanctions, noted that there are “no sanctions strong enough to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course that would not impinge on the quality of life of average Iranians.” The administration does not even purport that its targeted sanctions would be “crippling” — a word that has disappeared from its vocabulary.

President Obama has yet to deliver the “tough, direct message to Iran” that one of the presidential candidates in the October 7, 2008, debate proposed: “If you don’t change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences,” starting with crippling sanctions – “never taking military options off the table” or providing “veto power to the United Nations or anyone else in acting in our interests”:

… if we can impose the kinds of sanctions that, say, for example, Iran right now imports gasoline, even though it’s an oil-producer, because its oil infrastructure has broken down, if we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis. That starts putting the squeeze on them.

The candidate who promised that approach was Barack Obama, less than a month before he was elected. Sixteen months later, he can no longer muster even the rhetoric, much less the reality, of what he promised. He does not appear to be the person the country thought it knew.

Read Less