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Sense and Nonsense on Iran Sanctions

March 24, 2010

What do the Chinese, the Russians, the Arabs, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell have in common on Iran? Hint: it’s something that most members of Congress, the several thousand lobbyists deployed on Capitol Hill this week pressing for “crippling” sanctions, and much of the Obama administration do not seem to have where Iran is concerned.

The short answer is: commonsense. Colin Powell set the standard for Iran commonsense last week when he said,

I don’t see a set of sanctions coming along that would be so detrimental to the Iranians that they are going to stop [their nuclear] program. So ultimately, the solution has to be a negotiated one.

It’s a commonsense standard that the Chinese and the Russians have adopted. The Russian Foreign Ministry said this week that Russian and Chinese diplomats were meeting with their Iranian counterparts to try again to persuade Tehran to accept a deal first proposed last October to exchange most of its enriched uranium for reactor fuel. Iran initially accepted the deal but then backtracked.

The Arab League, meanwhile, has just announced an initiative to engage Iran directly over Arab concerns about its growing influence in the region and its nuclear activities. The plan is to pursue regional cooperation and conflict resolution among the Arab states, Iran and Turkey. The proposal will be discussed at the Arab summit in Libya later this week.

Conjuring in Washington

Russia, China, and the Arab League are not exactly names to conjure with in Washington, DC. The invocation of Colin Powell goes only a bit farther. Nonetheless, the Obama administration and Congress would do well to follow suit. Engagement, conciliation, and cooperation are stronger cards to play than the pair of deuces of sanctions and military action. If the goal is to persuade Iran to accept foolproof safeguards for its nuclear program and become part of a regional security structure for the Greater Middle East, then, as Colin Powell said, “ultimately, the solution has to be a negotiated one.”

Promoting much of the nonsense on Iran is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Several thousand AIPAC supporters visited congressional offices Tuesday to ask lawmakers to finalize work on a bill intended to impose a “crippling” gasoline import embargo on Iran. Congress is expected to oblige very soon. Few analysts, including Colin Powell, think a gasoline embargo is achievable, or that it would change Iranian behavior if it was. That is the nonsense of “crippling” sanctions: they can’t be imposed, and even if they could, they wouldn’t produce the desired result. The most likely effect of the Iran gasoline sanctions bill will be to greatly amplify the clamor for war with Iran when a gasoline embargo fails to materialize. This, of course, is what some analysts see as the real “sense” or purpose of the gasoline sanctions bill.

Another repository of real commonsense on Iran deserves mention and commendation: Americans for Peace Now. APN has mounted a smart and tenacious campaign against the gasoline sanctions bill and this week again told Congress

“Crippling” sanctions like this don’t work and could backfire. Examples of cases where similar sanctions have caused tremendous suffering but failed to force a change in government policy include Iraq, Cuba, Gaza, Haiti and, in fact, Iran itself, where decades of US and international sanctions did little to weaken the Iranian regime. The present leadership’s loss of legitimacy stems not from frustration over international sanctions but from popular outrage over the regime’s efforts to subvert the domestic political process. Indeed, under current circumstances there is a real risk that the proposed “crippling” sanctions could spark a broad nationalist backlash, furnishing the government with a populist point around which to mobilize support, at the expense of the opposition.

APN, Colin Powell, China, Russia, and the Arabs: an unlikely combination of witnesses, but their corroborating testimony on Iran defines commonsense in dealing with the serious challenges of Iran’s nuclear program and its role in the region.

  1. Ali Mostofi permalink
    March 25, 2010 11:42 am

    The simplest way to stop the mullahs is stop the banks that fund them from trading in the US.

  2. Karl Eysenbach permalink
    March 25, 2010 1:35 pm

    The thing that needs to be the ultimate game-changer for Washington is the Powerpoint presentation of Petraeus and Mullen saying that Israel’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank are threats to American national security.

    I’d love to beat AIPAC with a stick, but Netanyathu’s recent outrageous behavior gives me hope. If we look at Barak Obama’s behavior regarding health care, we find incrementalism all along the way. The water was continually turned up one degree centrigrade.
    One thing you have to say about the man. His heart and conscience are usually in the right place. But presidents need more than that.

    Given the constellation of the stars, the White House needs the prodding and support to move in this direction. From a political organizing perspective that means that FCNL, J Street and others need to strengthen their alliances and work together.

  3. Kathlyn Lew permalink
    March 25, 2010 3:52 pm

    It is refreshing to read about commonsense and good will. Sanctions, of course, are self-defeating and cause great harm to everyone involved, both the sanctioners and the sanctionees. What must be overcome, it seems to me, is a great cloud of malaise and heavy fog of false reporting, false advertising and fearful thinking hovering over the whole country of the USA. This miasma is being carefully monitored and thickened by combined political/corporate/media syndicates cleverly propagating, through publicity releases, bribery, fear-mongering, lies, sneering, and all the rest of the bad stuff that abounds everywhere, while a good sense of healthy skepticism gets lost in the muddle. The problem is immense. Can we wean ourselves off TV, off full-page advertising of the newest car models, beauty treatments, etc,??? Can we do it quickly enough to avoid suffocating???

  4. Karie Firoozmand permalink
    March 26, 2010 2:57 pm

    My knowledge here is limited, but it seems obvious that the US is pulling one way while the other significant players are not coming along. Iran trades so much with China & Russia that if they don’t go along with the US, we risk exposing just how ineffective sanctions could be and how wrongheaded was a decision to use them. If Iran can trade with its trade partners without interruption, what is the good of sanctions?

    There’s a long and fascinating history of the US and Iran hovering close to negotiations and then pulling away. The dodge-and-weave of last October, when Iran seemed to be accepting a plan, was opaque to me. I suspect that waht motivated that strange maneuver was either internal to Iran, or so top-secret that it isn’t public knowledge.

    Remember too that if Iran seems paranoid by its repeated assertions that the internal unrest after its elections was stirred up by the British or the US, two things could be in play. First, who is sure that there’s no truth to that? Second, the history of the US and Britain interfering with tragic consequences spans most of the 20th century. Stephen Kinzer’s book “All the Shah’s Men” is so worth a read for those interested in Iran.

  5. May 20, 2010 3:49 am

    Just come to read

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