Remember Iran’s nuclear program?
By Justin Logan Recent reporting indicates the Obama administration is beginning to think about what to do if Iran fails to respond to their overtures for negotiation over its nuclear program. A report in last week’s Haaretz claimed that the administration was looking at the option of attempting to impose an embargo of refined petroleum ...
By Justin Logan
Recent reporting indicates the Obama administration is beginning to think about what to do if Iran fails to respond to their overtures for negotiation over its nuclear program.
A report in last week’s Haaretz claimed that the administration was looking at the option of attempting to impose an embargo of refined petroleum products into Iran including, most importantly, gasoline which Iran has to import as a result of its lack of indigenous refining capacity. The NYT‘s David Sanger followed up with a story Monday indicating the reporting in Haaretz was correct, and Sanger predicts that legislation to impose sanctions on refined petroleum products will “sail through” Congress. There is also talk in Washington of pressing other U.N. Security Council members to sign on for similar measures. (Meantime, of course, the usual suspects in Washington have been doing their level best to promote panic and delude people about the likely consequences of military action.)
Sometimes, though, the trouble with making laws is that you have to enforce them. This seems like one of those cases. It’s much easier for Congress to grandstand by imploring the administration to “cut off” the supply of refined petroleum products into Iran than it is for the administration to actually cut them off. As Sanger writes: “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.”
As this Reuters report observes, while such restrictions would indeed place some increased pain on Iran, they would constitute, more than anything, a “boon to traders.” The fact is that there are extremely powerful incentives, particularly with the global economy in the toilet, for actors to cheat on these sorts of sanctions.
Given this reality, one wonders what’s going on here. Moreover, Matt Yglesias points to another important puzzle: many of the people promoting a resolution at the UNSC instituting an embargo also want to do things like admit Ukraine and Georgia into NATO and pressure the Chinese on their treatment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang or the people of Tibet. In order to get Russia or China to sign onto a sanctions regime, we would have to engage in actual diplomacy with those countries, perhaps including dreaded “quid pro quos,” which most hawkish analysts seem to view as appeasement.
Here’s a side question on the Iran nuclear dispute more generally, in particular for Beltway folks: If you were an Iranian government official or an adviser to the government, what would you suggest the government do? Should it seek to acquire a nuclear capability or try to negotiate a deal with the United States? Please show your work.
(For thoughts on the increasingly likely choice between either military action or an incipient Iranian nuclear capability, see myself, Barry Posen, or Christopher Hemmer.)
Justin Logan is associate director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. Twitter: @stephenwalt
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