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....

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. 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration of a captain's hat with a 1980s era Pepsi logo and USSR and U.S. flag pins.

The Doomed Voyage of Pepsi’s Soviet Navy

A three-decade dream of communist markets ended in the scrapyard.

Demonstrators with CASA in Action and Service Employees International Union 32BJ march against the Trump administration’s immigration policies in Washington on May 1, 2017.

Unionization Can End America’s Supply Chain Crisis

Allowing workers to organize would protect and empower undocumented immigrants critical to the U.S. economy.

The downtown district of Wilmington, Delaware, is seen on Aug. 19, 2016.

How Delaware Became the World’s Biggest Offshore Haven

Kleptocrats, criminals, and con artists have all parked their illicit gains in the state.