Commentary Magazine


Sanctions That Nibble

At AIPAC this week, Hillary Clinton promised not “crippling” sanctions against Iran but rather sanctions that would “bite.” That appears to be an overstatement. This report explains:

The U.S. has backed away from pursuing a number of tough measures against Iran in order to win support from Russia and China for a new United Nations Security Council resolution on sanctions, according to people familiar with the matter.

Among provisions removed from the original draft resolution the U.S. sent to key allies last month were sanctions aimed at choking off Tehran’s access to international banking services and capital markets, and closing international airspace and waters to Iran’s national air cargo and shipping lines, according to the people.

This is pathetic. The problem, of course, is that engagement did not, as promised, sell Russia and China on crippling sanctions that might actually have had some impact on the mullahs. (“The disclosure of weakened proposals came as U.S. officials sought to persuade Russia and China to back measures against Iran in a conference call on Wednesday among the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, the first such meeting including China since mid-January.”) So we begin the process of watering down and then watering down some more the economic measures that are the Obami’s sole means now — they have in effect taken military force off the table and are uninterested in regime change — of persuading the mullahs to put aside their nuclear ambitions.

The report explains:

The current resolution still would target major power centers in Iran, in particular the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country’s elite military force, according to a person familiar with the draft. It would also stiffen a broad range of existing sanctions, including the search and seizure of suspicious cargo bound for Iran through international waters and a ban on states offering financial assistance or credits for trade with Iran. If approved, they would be the most stringent measures Iran has faced.

Yet the original U.S. draft would have gone much further. The cargo sanctions initially named Iran Air and Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and demand a blanket ban of their airplanes and ships from other countries’ airspace or territorial waters. The revised version calls for interdiction only of shipments that would evade already-existing sanctions.

The earlier resolution would have made it difficult for Iran to insure imports and exports of oil and other essential commodities, by barring foreign insurers from serving international transport contracts from Iran. … The previous draft would also have barred Iran’s access to international capital markets by prohibiting foreign investment in Iranian bonds.

This has been the flaw in the entire sanctions strategy from the get-go. By the time something is negotiated, watered down, implemented, and its results assessed, it is too little and too late. In the process we reveal ourselves to be unserious and uncommitted to doing “whatever it takes” (Tony Blair’s formulation but certainly not the Obami’s) to prevent the revolutionary Islamic state from acquiring nuclear weapons. We are, it seems, inching ever closer to pronouncement of a full-blown “containment” approach — the inevitable alternative after the Obami have frittered away time and credibility and forsworn military action and regime change. The “unacceptable” is about to become reality.

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