16 August 2009

Iran: sanctions still on the agenda

In the New York Times for 14 August 2009 there is a joint opinion piece by Hossein Askari, Professor of International Business and International affairs at the George Washington University, and Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council and author of Treacherous Alliance — The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States.

This op-ed is sparked by the observation that the White House and the Congress are edging towards a fuel embargo against Iran, with the objective of squeezing that country into submission over its nuclear policy.

In Iran: Sanctions are in the air I provided a catalogue of reasons why this is a seriously dumb idea, not the least of them being the opportunities for retaliation outlined in Choke point: the Strait of Hormuz, and the serious risk of this leading to military escalation spiralling out of control.

Askari and Parsi provide a few more reasons to dismiss this idea out of hand:

- An embargo would be a blessing for the hard-line government to once again be able to point to a foreign threat to justify domestic repression and consolidate its base at a time when opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is increasing among conservatives.

- An effective gasoline embargo can only be implemented through a naval blockade. This would require U.N. Security Council approval — a tortuous process with no certain outcome. An embargo without U.N. approval is an act of war according to international law, and Iran has declared that it would be met with force.

- The economics of a gasoline embargo simply doesn’t make sense... the regime has wanted to eliminate [the current government] subsidy [which costs 10 to 20 per cent of GDP], raise the price to world levels and reduce consumption, but has been paralysed by the spectre of a domestic backlash... The sanctions would [do] what Tehran has wanted to do for years and the government would not be held responsible!

- [The proposal] is a fundamental misreading of the psychology of an embargoed people... During the Iran-Iraq War, they faced unprecedented economic hardships. This did not ignite a popular uprising.

- Rather than blaming Mr. Ahmadinejad, Iranians are likely to blame the United States.

None of these arguments is likely to get in the way of implementing a policy that will make a lot of people feel good and give them an opportunity to strut on the television and show how tough they are.

This will end in tears, and they will not all be Iranian tears.

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