Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

More Sanctions, More Problems

Because lifting U.S. sanctions on Iran requires legislative action that Congress is unlikely to take no matter what steps Iran’s leaders make, analysts say the Iranian regime has less incentive than ever to halt its nuclear enrichment.

Print Friendly


There is a consensus in Washington that more sanctions will help convince Iran to halt its nuclear development. On June 3, President Obama issued an executive order — his sixth in two years — announcing new sanctions targeting Iran’s currency and its auto industry. Meanwhile, a number of separate sanctions bills are being circulated in Congress, with additional penalties expected to be passed later this summer. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez recently remarked, “The sanctions are working – but they aren’t enough, and they aren’t working fast enough.”

The logic of both the White House and Congress seems to be that we need more sanctions to compel Iran to negotiate and freeze its controversial nuclear program. But our research suggests the opposite: repeated intensifications of economic pressure are not bringing Iran to the negotiating table. In fact, sanctions now appear to be pushing the long-sought-after nuclear agreement further away.

A recent report by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation concluded that sanctions are not “working” the way they should be. Yes, they’ve hit Iran’s economy hard — but that doesn’t mean the policy is succeeding. Crucially, sanctions haven’t persuaded Iran’s leadership to come to an agreement with the West and may have begun to strengthen the Iranian regime and cement its determination to continue defying the international community.

How is it that sanctions are doing the opposite of what they were supposed to? This wasn’t always the case. Particularly in the early years of the Obama administration, when the President exerted considerable political muscle to get international allies on board with tough penalties on Iran, sanctions helped signal to Tehran that the international community was serious about the nuclear issue. Moreover, by focusing on sanctions instead of taking the drastic step toward military action, the President showed a preference for resolving the impasse through diplomacy rather than war.

Since then, however, a curious thing has happened. Thanks to the sheer number of sanctions that have been put in place, the American commitment to a diplomatic solution appears increasingly hollow. Theoretically, Iran should be interested in talking to the West in order to negotiate for sanctions relief. But the actual process of lifting sanctions is far more complicated than it appears — a number of legal and political hurdles have prevented the U.S. and its European allies from credibly committing to significant sanctions relief during negotiations with Iran.

For instance, sanctions passed by Congress require another act of Congress before they can be repealed and U.S. lawmakers would be loath to pass such legislation for fear of appearing weak on Iran. Another problem is that many sanctions are written with built-in conditions that need to be met before they can be terminated. Some of these conditions are so out of reach that Iran may no longer see a point in even showing up for the negotiations.

Due to all the strings attached to sanctions legislation, Iranians perceive the U.S. as being more interested in sanctions than in coming to an agreement.

Even as these legal and bureaucratic difficulties stall the diplomatic process, the impact of sanctions within Iran is also hurting U.S. interests. Rather than weakening the defiant regime, sanctions have actually given the Iranian government the ability to manage the economy and consolidate its power. Through patronage, currency manipulation, and other methods, Iran’s leaders have taken advantage of the sanctions by forcing people in dire economic straits to rely on special government favors.

Meanwhile, younger Iranians and political moderates — who, somewhere down the line, could be useful allies for the U.S. — are seeing their economic and political power diminished. They’re also starting to blame the West for their woes.

In the long term, then, sanctions are eroding American influence in Iran. And in the short term, sanctions aren’t giving the U.S. and its allies the leverage they need in nuclear negotiations. More sanctions, according to our research, will not solve this problem. In fact, more sanctions will make the problem harder to solve. As veteran Middle East diplomat Ryan Crocker recently warned, “it seems to me that the more you press this regime, the more they dig in.”

On June 3, while unveiling the new executive branch sanctions, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney noted, “Even as we intensify our pressure on the Iranian government, we hold the door open to a diplomatic solution.” Carney’s comments obscured a troubling reality: sanctions no longer go hand in hand with the diplomatic process. Rather, sanctions are hindering efforts to negotiate with the Iranians and to resolve the problem peacefully.

Economic sanctions could have served as a useful element of a sophisticated, multi-faceted effort to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Now, however, sanctions are fast becoming the entirety of our policy — and a policy of pressure alone has little chance of succeeding. To make genuine progress on the Iranian nuclear issue, the Obama administration and Congress must shift their focus toward sanctions relief and compromise, rather than sticking with the pressure-only approach that’s proving increasingly counterproductive.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) has been an outspoken proponent of militarist U.S. foreign polices and the use of torture, aping the views of her father, Dick Cheney.

United against Nuclear Iran is a pressure group that attacks companies doing business in Iran and disseminates alarmist reports about the country’s nuclear program.

John Bolton, senior fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and the controversial former ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, has been considered for a variety of positions in the Trump administration, including most recently as national security adviser.

Gina Haspel is a CIA officer who was nominated to head the agency by President Donald Trump in March 2018. She first came to prominence because of accusations that she oversaw the torture of prisoners and later destroyed video evidence of that torture.

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), President Trump’s nominee for secretary of state to replace Rex Tillerson, is a “tea party” Republican who previously served as director of the CIA.

Richard Goldberg is a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who served as a foreign policy aide to former Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has been advocating regime change in Iran since even before 9/11.

For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

Hardliners at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies are working overtime to convince the Trump administration to “fix” the nuclear agreement with Iran on the pretext that it will give the US leverage in negotiations with North Korea.

Print Friendly

North Korea and Iran both understand the lesson of Libya: Muammar Qaddafi, a horrifyingly brutal dictator, gave up his nuclear weapons, was eventually ousted from power with large-scale US assistance, and was killed. However, while Iran has a long and bitter history with the United States, North Korea’s outlook is shaped by its near-total destruction by forces led by the United States in the Korean War.

Print Friendly

Europe loathes having to choose between Tehran and Washington, and thus it will spare no efforts to avoid the choice. It might therefore opt for a middle road, trying to please both parties by persuading Trump to retain the accord and Iran to limit missile ballistic programs and regional activities.

Print Friendly

Key members of Trump’s cabinet should recognize the realism behind encouraging a Saudi- and Iranian-backed regional security agreement because the success of such an agreement would not only serve long-term U.S. interests, it could also have a positive impact on numerous conflicts in the Middle East.

Print Friendly

Given that Israel failed to defeat Hezbollah in its war in Lebanon in 2006, it’s difficult to imagine Israel succeeding in a war against both Hezbollah and its newfound regional network of Shiite allies. And at the same time not only is Hezbollah’s missile arsenal a lot larger and more dangerous than it was in 2006, but it has also gained vast experience alongside its allies in offensive operations against IS and similar groups.

Print Friendly

Donald Trump should never be excused of responsibility for tearing down the respect for truth, but a foundation for his flagrant falsifying is the fact that many people would rather be entertained, no matter how false is the source of their entertainment, than to confront truth that is boring or unsatisfying or that requires effort to understand.

Print Friendly

It would be a welcome change in twenty-first-century America if the reckless decision to throw yet more unbelievable sums of money at a Pentagon already vastly overfunded sparked a serious discussion about America’s hyper-militarized foreign policy.