Here’s the bottom line: Indiscriminate sanctions are meant to change Iran’s strategic calculus to such a degree that the costs of maintaining its current policy trajectory outweigh the benefits - thus pressuring Iran into "changing its behaviour". Listening to Presidents Carter through Obama articulate the success of this strategy during their respective administrations is compelling, except for one minor detail - it’s never actually worked. And it will not work. For nearly 33 years and six US presidential administrations, broad-based sanctions have not compelled the Iranian government to change course. But they have significantly added to tensions between Iran and the United States. By the US' own metric, its track record of success with Iran sanctions is second only to that of Castro’s Cuba.
Regardless of whether the assassination allegations against Iran are true, the Obama administration has escalated tensions to a point where we are now on the verge of repeating our same mistakes vis-à-vis Iraq in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Thinking back to last month, one has to wonder whether the recently retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, knew something we don’t when he supported the notion of opening up channels of communication with Iran. Unprompted, Mullen said: "We haven’t had a connection with Iran since 1979. Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union. We are not talking to Iran so we don’t understand each other. If something happens, it’s virtually assured that we won't get it right, that there will be miscalculations which would be extremely dangerous in that part of the world." [my emphasis]
The idea that having negotiations or establishing diplomatic relations with a country is some kind of reward for their behavior is highly dubious, based on its sorry record of effectiveness in achieving the alleged political goals. If a government is factually in control of a country's territory and can handle the basic requirements of international relations, e.g., protecting an embassy, we should establish normal diplomatic relations with them. In the unusual case of Iran in 1979, the Iranian regime took over the American Embassy and held US diplomats hostage until January 1981. During that time, it wouldn't have made sense to re-establish diplomatic relations. But now, 22 years later?
This idea that conducting diplomacy is a reward for good behavior is a favorite notions of neoconservatives, who in dealing with Islamic nations in the Middle East especially want to use only war and the threat of war as tools of foreign relations. As Daniel Luban recently wrote:
... the neocons drew deeper lessons from the Arab-Israeli conflict about the indispensability of American power and the uselessness of international institutions. While liberals thought the conflict called for better diplomacy, the neocons blamed diplomacy itself, and a liberalism that was too impotent and equivocating to stand up for Israel.
And they projected this attitude to US foreign relations more generally, including the John Birch Society's eternal bugaboo, the United Nations.
A war with Iran would be a really bad idea. Although it's a lot to hope for, it is the responsibility of Congress and the press to exercise some serious oversight on the claims the Obama Administration is making over the Mr. Bean "Iranian" plot.
Jasmin Ramsey at LobeLog Foreign Policy writes about the current state of warmongering for war with Iran in Paul Pillar takes down Richard Cohen on Iran 11/20/2011. The neocons pushed for war with Iraq from the end of the 1991 Gulf War until the beginning of the US-British invasion in 2003. They are now doing the same with Iran. If the Obama Administration seriously wants to avoid war with Iran, they have to do something to make it more difficult for President Perry to set up that war in 2013.
But right now, they are moving in the opposite direction.