Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Obama Administration and Sanctions on Iran: The Farce Deepens

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By Barry Rubin

For more than a year I have repeatedly pointed out that the Obama Administration's strategy of increasing the level of sanctions against Iran has been a mess. Deadlines set by the U.S. government for September and then December weren't met. Even afterward, the government had not even established publicly (and it seems not even privately) its basic position on what sanctions should be. Congressional proposals for a tougher stance were discouraged and ignored.

Now President Obama once again assures us in early April:

“My hope is that we are going to get this [sanctions] done this spring. So I’m not interested in waiting months for a sanctions regime to be in place, I’m interested in seeing that regime in place in weeks.”

Over and over again we were assured, apparently without basis, that Russia and China were going to support increased sanctions. With the Obama Administration in office now for 14 months, Moscow and Beijing seem no closer to supporting such a policy than they were when the process began.

Now there is more news. It is April and there are no immediate prospect for sanctions. Indeed, the issue is not even on the agenda for the UN Security Council this month. In May, the rotating presidency goes to Lebanon, a country in which Hizballah, an Iranian client, has a veto power over every decision. The Lebanese government has already declared that it will be supportive of Tehran.

June, anyone? Just remember that spring ends June 22 and no doubt we will be discussing the lack of increased sanctions on the day summer begins.

Government officials who are well-informed tell me they believe there might not be any increased sanctions at all.

I repeat: It now seems to be a race between Iran getting nuclear weapons and inadequate increased sanctions being implemented, too little and too late.

To be fair, some companies have stopped gasoline sales to Iran, possibly due to behind-the-scenes U.S. pressure but Iran has been able to make up for the deficit easily on the spot market. There has been some decline in Iranian exports, perhaps merely temporary, as countries like India and China worry about the security of the supply.

The problem is that this kind of action doesn't amount to a great deal compared to what could be accomplished by either a multinational effort of willing countries--Britain, Germany, and France want to go further than the United States--or a successful effort at the UN. It should be remembered that the Obama administration consciously and explicitly played down the importance of U.S. leadership and extolled consensus, thereby reducing any American ability to direct international campaigns.

This massive failure regarding Iran sanctions should be crystal clear. Whether or not strong sanctions would have had a chance to slow or undermine the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons can legitimately be debated. But we're not going to get a chance to find out.

So what does it mean when President Obama tells the New York Times that Iran is working to get nuclear weapons, calls this effort misguided, and vows to stop it?

How is it misguided if Tehran has shown that it can get nuclear weapons and long-range missiles in the face of a declared Western attempt to stop it but which in fact extracts little additional cost? Looks pretty well guided to me, as well guided as are Iran's long-range missiles.

This was the first test of this administration's foreign policy philosophy and ability. The challenge was not necessarily to stop Iran but at least to make a credible effort at trying to do so. The president and his team have failed miserably.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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