“Economic sanctions rarely hurt a disfavored regime or its powerful supporters, at least in the short run. They hurt those at the bottom of the ladder. This is a point that we Westerners, with our addiction to the imposition of sanctions to punish bad behavior, should take more seriously than we do……….. This has always been the problem with the West’s sanction addiction. Sanctions nip at those whose lives are already marginal…….. Dictators everywhere try to control the economy, to funnel resources to their friends……… In the case of Iran, the sanctions are manifestly failing, unless their point was to force the government to redistribute the wealth. The regime is proceeding with its nuclear weapons development, and may even be picking up the pace. Western experts differ on how close the regime is to completing its research. The head of Israeli military intelligence recently estimated that Iran may have the capacity to build at least one nuclear explosive device by next year. Things may change. The Iranian regime may give up its nuclear dreams, making the world that much safer, and, incidentally, handing the Obama administration a much-needed foreign-policy victory. But no matter the result in Iran, let us remember, the next time we debate the imposition of sanctions on a rogue state, exactly whom we are really punishing…………”
It is highly unlikely that the ruling Iranian mullahs (or any replacement regime) will suddenly give up their nuclear program anytime soon.
As for the forces behind economic sanctions: they are more complex than the writer notes. The famous sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath regime in Iraq did not harm the dictatorship or its elites: it hurt the ordinary people. But these were broad wartime sanctions, not as selective or nuanced as what Iran “supposedly” faces currently. Then there are so-called smart sanctions that are as almost dumb as other sanctions, but maybe not as dumb as asinine sanctions. One reasonable definition of asinine sanctions is that they are the kind that neoconservatives usually prefer. A good example of asinine sanctions are those no one believes in but they are kept in place out of political fear or expediency, like the sanctions against Cuba. In fact, the American sanctions against Cuba are some of the most asinine in history.
Take the sanctions against Iran: they are only partly driven by IAEA requirements, but their depth and scope also reflect the influence of domestic American political pressure groups. These groups include the Israeli lobby (AIPAC, etc), as well as defense hawks on the right (and some on the left). These sanctions are also partly driven by a regional rivalry for domination between the United States (directly and/or through its proxy allies) and Iran. In summary, the scope of the sanctions is the result of domestic American politics as much as Iranian “infractions”. Then there is the ego of some regional allies that the U.S. administration needs to massage, in this case the Israelis, the Saudis and possibly the UAE potentates (there is oil and huge contracts at stake). Then there is the need of some in both Israel and the USA to inflate the Iranian threat and its urgency in order to divert attention away from the urgent need to resolve the issue of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Among other things………
(Personally, I believe the only “smart” sanctions are those that target weapons and individuals, not institutions. Targeting large institutions almost always tends to harm many ordinary people).