Daniel W. Drezner

Free ponies and sanctioning Iran

In a legen — wait for it — dary blog post, Belle Waring mentioned the pony problem in public policy.  Namely, "an infallible way to improve any public policy wishes. You just wish for the thing, plus, wish that everyone would have their own pony!" I bring this up because of David Sanger’s New York ...

In a legen — wait for it — dary blog post, Belle Waring mentioned the pony problem in public policy.  Namely, "an infallible way to improve any public policy wishes. You just wish for the thing, plus, wish that everyone would have their own pony!"

I bring this up because of David Sanger’s New York Times story about the prospects of imposing a gasoline embargo on Iran:  

The Obama administration is talking with allies and Congress about the possibility of imposing an extreme economic sanction against Iran if it fails to respond to President Obama’s offer to negotiate on its nuclear program: cutting off the country’s imports of gasoline and other refined oil products….

But enforcing what would amount to a gasoline embargo has long been considered risky and extremely difficult; it would require the participation of Russia and China, among others that profit from trade with Iran. Iran has threatened to respond by cutting off oil exports and closing shipping traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, at a moment that the world economy is highly vulnerable.

The rest of the story is kind of irrelevant — because without China and Russia, this is just a theoretical exercise.  In fact, here’s a good time-saver:  if you read any story about a gasoline embargo o Iran, just scan quickly and get to the part where the reporter explains how and why Russia and China would go along.  If it’s not mentioned, the story is inconsequential. 

If you want China and Russia to agree to sanctions, should you wish for the free pony as well?  Here the growth of dissent in Iran complicates an already complicated picture.  I’m betting that Moscow and Beijing have observed the "Death to Russia!" and "Death to China!" chants among the protestors.  This is likely going to make them even more reluctant to do anything that undermines the current regime (even if this hurts their long-term interests).  Which a gasoline embargo would most certainly do. 

Do I think a gasoline embargo is a good idea?  Absolutely.  Do I think it will happen?  No, I don’t. 

UPDATE:  Spencer Ackerman reacts the same way I do.  The Weekly Standard‘s Michael Goldfarb is more optimistic. 

 Twitter: @dandrezner

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