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Friday, February 12, 2010

Sanctioning Iran's human rights abusers: Another 'feel good' exercise

A bipartisan group of US Senators planned on Thursday to introduce a bill that would force President Obumbler to levy sanctions against Iran's human rights abusers.
The legislation is authored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who usually sides with Democrats, and by Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. A bipartisan group of Senators will co-sponsor the legislation.

The bill reflects a growing movement, in the U.S. and abroad, to put the Iranian government's treatment of internal dissidents at the top of the list of grievances against Tehran, alongside its nuclear program. The growing international unhappiness over Iran's human-rights practices was reflected over the weekend at an international security conference in Munich, where Iran's foreign minister tried, without much success, to downplay the regime's arrests and harassment of anti-government protesters.


The legislation will require that the president, within 90 days, produce a list of Iranians who have committed human rights abuses or acts of violence against Iranian citizens engaging in "peaceful political activity," said one Senate aide involved in drafting the legislation. Those on the list then would be hit with a variety of sanctions, including a ban on visas to the U.S. and a freeze on assets abroad.
But without a credible military option to back them up, the sanctions are unlikely to do anything other than make Americans feel righteous that they are 'doing something' to stop Iran. As former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton points out,
“Ahmadinejad’s declaration, combined with the regime’s forceful actions against the opposition, show that the regime is determined to fight through its present domestic and international difficulties.”

“This is not a regime that fears being ‘isolated’ by Barack Obama, nor does it seem to fear the threat of additional sanctions,” Bolton says. “Iran remains on the path to nuclear weapons and entrenching its domestic power.”
And why should Iran fear isolation asks David Sanger in the New York Times:
“The history of sanctions suggests it is nearly impossible to craft them to compel a government to change on an issue it sees as vital to national security,” said Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “They can affect a government’s calculations, but it’s no solution.”

That was certainly the Bush administration’s experience. Starting in 2006, the United States led the drive at the United Nations Security Council to pass ever escalating economic sanctions.

The list of sanctions is now six pages long. But none have accomplished the central goal: forcing compliance with the Security Council’s demand that Iran halt uranium enrichment. Mr. Obama’s team acknowledges the potential political liability of passing a fourth round that proves equally ineffective. Some are scaling back expectations for what they once called “crippling sanctions.”

“This is about driving them back to negotiations,” said one senior official, “because the real goal here is to avoid war.”
And that, dear readers, is exactly the problem. So long as the real goal is to avoid war and not to stop Iran's nuclear program, all of the sanctions are 'feel good' measures that salve our conscience and aren't going to impress Ahmadinejad or change his behavior at all.

What could go wrong?


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