Today’s edition of the New York Times visits Tehran and reports on page one that the economic sanctions leveled against Iran by the United States are not working — if by working one means that the country shows any signs of ditching its nuclear program.
Oh, it’s not like the sanctions have completely flopped: Inflation is gargantuan, and the currency has melted. But the Times reporters find that Iran’s citizens have yet to riot over prices. New high-rises are rising high over Tehran and a Chinese-built highway interchange is similarly soaring. Shops are filled with goods, and new eateries seem to be opening daily. In response, the Obama administration has decided to do the thing it does when sanctions don’t work (and not working is something sanctions frequently do): It’s adding more sanctions. (Print headline: “U.S. Ratchets Up an Economic War Against Tehran; Web headline: “U.S. Increases Pressure of Economic War on Tehran.”)
For all the clarity the Times brings to the subject, the piece could have been headlined “U.S. Doubles Down on Hopeless Initiative Against Iran.” Not only are the existing sanctions not working, the Times reports, but unnamed senior Obama administration officials doubt that the new sanctions will work. In detailing the mechanics of the sanctions, the piece leaves the reader to understand that just about the only positive thing about sanctions is that they’re not as nasty as war. But that might change, too. The Times‘ kicker reports an upcoming military exercise in the Persian Gulf in which the U.S. and its allies will practice intercepting banned weapons and technology bound for Iranian ports, which may result in the worst of both worlds — sanctions and war.
The United States has levied sanctions on so many countries over the years, with so little success, that a template must exist over at the Times for stories such as today’s. Time and again we’ve been told by the government and news reports that the sanctions had shattered the Iranian economy and that the country really couldn’t take much more. (Last month the Wall Street Journal published such an account.) Yet Iran stands, and the Obama administration proposes yet another wave of sanctions. The United States made economic sanctions its foreign policy tool of choice in the post-cold-war era, as Richard N. Haass explained in Foreign Affairs 15 years ago, because they’re a politically painless way for presidents to look as though they’re doing something as they seek to arrest weapons proliferation, stop wars and topple foreign governments.
The president’s sanctions golf bag contains a dozen or more clubs. According to Haass, these include “arms embargoes, foreign assistance reductions and cutoffs, export and import limitations, asset freezes, tariff increases, import quota decreases, revocation of most favored nation (MFN) trade status, votes in international organizations, withdrawal of diplomatic relations, visa denials, cancellation of air links, and credit, financing, and investment prohibitions.” Haass called sanctions “a form of expression, a way to signal displeasure with a behavior or an action.”