(Page 2 of 2)
The existing sanctions against Iran have been, as usual, harming the middle class and everyday citizens with high inflation and a lack of access to foreign goods and lack of ability to do overseas business. They're also hurting Western businesses who are or were trying to do business with Iranians. The Iranian government and Revolutionary Guard, meantime, manage to tough it out fine. As USA Today noted in November: “the Guards, with its network of shell companies, border outposts and foreign operations, is best positioned in Iran to dominate a sanctions economy, says Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council and author of…A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy With Iran…’They are in control of most of the smuggling, and whoever is smuggling earns a profit,’ Parsi says.”
Meanwhile, as Declan McCullagh explains, Clinton-era Iran sanctions are still limiting Iranian citizens’ ability to use modern software we in the West enjoy. That applies to Iranian dissidents as well as loyalists.
Nothing in this new sanction bill, or any of its proposed tougher amendments from the likes of Iran superhawk Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), would be likely to change the fact that an obdurate Iran feeling pushed to the wall is not apt to crack and give us what we want—unless what we really want is either an end to the regime entirely by our action, or an excuse for war. Sanctions have a terrible record of achieving their policy goals, though a decent one of pushing all sides into such obdurate positions that war results.
Why even think of war? It is not a matter of national life and death whether Iran manages to get nukes—and there is still no solid evidence that it is trying to do so. Iran does, however, seem to enjoy tweaking the West about the possibility (and Western media seems intent on ginning up war fever reminiscent of the lead-up to the second Iraq war).
Israel more than outmatches Iran in nuclear weapons, missile capabilities, and even well-targeted and significant terror attacks (the most likely explanation for deaths of a handful of Iranian nuke scientists in the past few years). As Paul Pillar, a former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, explains at length in a recent Washington Monthly feature, “an Iran with a bomb would not be anywhere near as dangerous as most people assume, and a war to try to stop it from acquiring one would be less successful, and far more costly, than most people imagine.” There is simply no good reason to assume they are suicidal madmen based on the regime's past behavior, and blowback to the West from Iran being attacked could be costly, lengthy, and murderous.
The respectable likes of Joe Lieberman want to codify that that the U.S. will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons, that despite our decades of succeeding in keeping governments led by murderous madmen far worse than the Iranian mullahs—Stalin and Mao—from using them without war, a nuclear Iran cannot be merely contained. President Obama agrees with this absurd and dangerous proposition. As Robert Naiman put it at Huffington Post, “Lieberman et al want to lower the threshold for the United States to go to war, to a place indistinguishable from the status quo today.”
Still, Reid insists, "There's nothing in the resolution that talks about war,” explaining his objection to Paul’s amendment
Except for the fact that trying to squeeze a nation’s economy to death is a hostile act in and of itself. Any shooting war would be at best a short-term deterrent to what it is meant to accomplish (minus a complete regime overthrow and long term occupation), in pursuit of ending a threat that is likely less of a problem for the world than the war would be. The idea that even an Iran with nukes would become some regional menace is unlikely: The country's military spending is tiny and its equipment shoddy, compared to neighbors such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, and it is already fully surrounded by U.S. forces. What it could do with a nuke is ward off regime change forced from outside, likely the main reason Israel and the U.S. are so insistent that Iran not get one.
Rand Paul’s move may have been an aggravating political game to Reid—who, in fighting off any amendments to the bill likely kept it from getting even worse and prevented various Republicans and Democrats from widening its reach. But it it would be a good thing for Congress to declare that it understands war with Iran (or Syria) is not something the U.S. has any good reason to pursue. Congress should also understand that the sanctions, like any eventual war, are themselves misguided, harmful, and unlikely to achieve a goal worth achieving.
For halting the new sanctions bill, at least for now, and for trying to force his colleagues (and through the media bullhorn a senator enjoys, all Americans) to think about war and sanctions, Rand Paul deserves our thanks. The American people, according to a new Reason/Rupe poll, are disturbingly ready for such a war: Forty-eight percent favor an attack to stop Iran from getting nukes, and 37 percent still support war even understanding it could lead to an Iraq-length conflict. And for making his stand in the face of a party, a government, and a nation unconcerned with halting the motion toward war, Rand Paul deserves not just thanks, but respect—a rare quality for a senator.