A "Used Tissue?" So Much For "Crippling" Sanctions

We watched as President Obama carefully crafted a slick messaging campaign built around a theme of change. In the two years since President Obama took office almost two years ago, we’ve looked on helplessly as he broke campaign promise after campaign promise. With health care it turns out that we can’t keep our plan if we like it. In Iraq it turns out 50,000 troops will remain there indefinitely. Now, Obama threatens to break another key campaign promise: “I make an absolute commitment that we will do everything we need to do to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”

The United Nations Security Council handed down new U.N. sanctions against Iran. And these aren’t just any sanctions. According to President Obama these are the “toughest sanctions ever faced by the Iranian government and sends an unmistakable message about the international community’s commitment about stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.”

Well apparently Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad disagrees. In response to the new sanctions he said, “From right and from left they adopt sanctions, but for us they are annoying flies, like a used tissue.” Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee added that “Iran…will never bow – to the hostile actions and pressures by these few powers and will continue to defend its rights.” Senior member of the Iranian National Guard, Gen. Hossein Salami piled onto the criticism saying, “The Iranian nation and the Guard has experienced life under 31 years of sanctions … and has achieved self-sufficiency. It is the outside world, not Iran, that will lose from sanctions.”

Hmm. A “used tissue” huh? Likely not the response President Obama was hoping.

What else could have been expected? As BBC News reports, “[T]he sanctions were passed after being watered down during negotiations with Russia and China on Tuesday. In the end there were no crippling economic sanctions and no oil embargo.”

Crippling. Funny choice of word given that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has previously promised “crippling sanctions” if Iran continued to pursue nuclear weapons.

The problem is that many of the provisions of the new sanctions are purely voluntary – far short of the international mandate that may have hurt Iran. As it stands, nations are likely to enforce the sanctions in differing ways. Russia and China, who have seemed sympathetic to the Iranian regime, pose the biggest threat to the sanctions effectiveness. As one foreign policy expert warns, these nations “will probably parse the resolution’s language to its barest essentials, doing the minimum necessary to meet its requirements.” It is also rife with loopholes. As Christopher Wall writes in Foreign Policy Magazine,

“For example, it does not prohibit Russia from selling S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran because those weapons are not covered by the resolution’s technical definition of a missile listed on the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms.”

Problems with implementation, loopholes, and a wide gap between the rhetoric and the reality. Sounds a lot like health care reform!

Given the weaknesses of the international response the Obama administration must pursue a three-pronged strategy to weaken a defiant Iranian regime.

The United States must work outside the framework of the United Nations to find a coalition willing to impose true sanctions. Namely, any plan must address Iranian dependence on importing foreign oil. Iran, which lacks refining capacity, imports 40% of its gasoline. Limiting their ability to import oil would put enormous pressure on the entire economy and could lead to the type of bottom-up revolt amongst “ordinary” Iranians that seems to have been brewing since last year’s elections.

To that end, the President has done a poor job thus far in supporting democratic elements within Iran. It is hard to forget the lukewarm response of the Obama administration to the dubious results of the Iranian elections last year. Millions of Iranians mobilized against the Ahmadinejad regime, facing violent repression, and even death. President Obama must make clear that the struggle for a more democratic and modern Iran is not simply an internal Iranian issue, but is a primary issue of concern in the United States. We cannot, as we have in the past, equivocate on our support for the Green Movement in return for the mere hope of trading recognition for suspension of the nuclear program. It hasn’t happened. It won’t happen. Those who fight for democracy in Iran must know that they have the support of the United States.

Finally, President Obama must seriously consider that possibility that despite all the sanctions, spying, and delaying, a military strike may be the only way to prevent an Iran from going nuclear. Although the U.S. may not be able to withstand the political and international fallout from a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the President would do well to remember the insight of former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who wrote in a Wall Street Journal column last month that, Israeli use of military force would be neither precipitate nor disproportionate, but only a last resort in anticipatory self-defense. Arab governments already understand that logic and largely share it themselves. Such a strike would advance both Israel’s and America’s security interests, and also those of the Arab states.”

As for the rest of us, let us not forget that, despite the economic crisis at home, Iran continues to pose an existential threat to Israel and all those who support the victory and Western democracy over theocratic tyranny in the Middle East. And let us vote accordingly.

by Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee