Not Giving up Yet on Iranian Engagement

Good news: the Obama administration is getting ready to impose sanctions on Iran. Bad news: they are doing so in a half-hearted fashion without giving up the pipe dream of re-engaging a barbaric regime murdering its own people. No, really. They don’t want to topple the regime nor inflict much damage, just target those “elements” they think are the really bad guys. The Washington Post reports:

“We have never been attracted to the idea of trying to get the whole world to cordon off their economy,” said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “We have to be deft at this, because it matters how the Iranian people interpret their isolation — whether they fault the regime or are fooled into thinking we are to blame.”

It is unclear how, exactly, we are going to target only the Revolutionary Guard, for example. And heaven forbid we should appear to aid the protestors. (“But officials insist that sanctions would not be linked to the protests. ‘It is only coincidental that at the same time we reached the deadline, the Iranian government has a bloody crackdown,’ said a third U.S. official. ‘It has only served to highlight the nature of the regime.'”) What is important is that we avoid being too harsh, too effective, or inflict too much damage because then the regime wouldn’t want to come back to the bargaining table:

Administration officials have not given up hope that the deal can be revived — they are encouraging Turkish efforts to bridge the gap — but they say the apparent turmoil it generated within the Iranian leadership is a useful side benefit of engagement. The effort to engage “has had an unsettling effect on people in the regime,” one official said. “It has made it more difficult to demonize the United States and say it has been the root of all evil.”

(Notice the defensive fixation that we must justify our own actions to the Iranian people, who are risking life and limb against a regime they know all to well is evil.) And in defending the engagement strategy, unnamed officials claim they’ve been making progress with China. Well, not exactly progress. The Chinese just “understand the argument but don’t have the sense of urgency that other countries have.” All that bowing and scraping for nothing, it seems.

If this seems ludicrous and full of the same otherwordly thinking that originally spurred the engagement gambit and frittered away a year (while the mullahs proceeded with their nuclear program), you are right. Whatever mumbo-jumbo they are talking about, it is not “crippling sanctions.” The mullahs will be delighted to know there are no serious consequences for their behavior. They will no doubt proceed full speed ahead with their nuclear plans. And for those who imagined that Obama would be tougher and smarter? Well, it was just their imagination.