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Are oil sanctions the best way to curb a nuclear Iran?

March 31, 2012|By Alexandra Le Tellier
  • Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks to the press on March 24, 2012.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks to the press on March 24,… (Atta Kenare /AFP/Getty…)

The Obama administration imposed tighter oil sanctions on Iran on Friday in hopes that the threat to its economy would force the country to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program. That's in addition to the European Union's sanctions, which begin July 1. But is an economic threat persuasive enough? It all depends on who you ask.

"The Iranian regime can live without its nuclear program," writes Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian Israeli Middle East analyst, in a piece on CNN's GPS. "But it can't live without its economy, and the recently imposed sanctions, if continued, could turn into an existential danger for the Iranian regime by precipitating an economic collapse." Moreover: "The regime can't continue with the economic status quo indefinitely. If the economy collapses, nothing will be able to save it or stave off the regime-threatening instability that would come with it."

Historian Stephen Schlesinger agrees that sanctions are a better approach than waging war. In our Opinion pages, he argues: "Iran can be more than a fearsome adversary; it can be a relentless, indeed irrational, state willing to strike out blindly."

But Benny Morris, also a historian, doubts that. "Diplomacy and sanctions have not stopped Iran's nuclear program," he writes.  "If it isn't stopped militarily, Iran will have nuclear weapons in the near future."

It's entirely possible that Iran can find new customers to replace its U.S. and EU business, which would render the approach of sanctions useless, argues Sara Vakhshouri, a former advisor to the director of National Iranian Oil Co., on the Huffington Post.

In which case we're back to Morris' recommendation of military action.

It's only a matter of time, says Jonathan S. Tobin at Commentary magazine. "No matter how much they boast of their success in creating an international coalition to back sanctions against Iran, they know this is mere talk. The Iranians don't believe the Europeans will, when push comes to shove, enforce crippling sanctions against them. And they have no intention of backing down. That means sooner or later  President Obama will have to choose between actually taking action on Iran and breaking his promise to ensure that Iran never goes nuclear."

Or it may come down to pure and simple American bravado. "The reason is that America's top politicians, Republican and Democrat, are locked into the imperial mind-set," Sheldon Richman, senior fellow at the Future of Freedom Foundation, argues on Reason. "In their view, this country -- more precisely, the man who presides over the national government -- is the policeman of the world. They embrace President George H.W. Bush's decree from 1990: 'What we say goes.' If the president doesn't like something, he reserves the authority to do something about it -- militarily if 'necessary.' "

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