Iran Sanctions: Prudent or Political?



When he reimposed sanctions on Iran, President Donald Trump called the move part of “a campaign of economic pressure to deny the regime the funds it needs to advance its bloody agenda.” Let’s hope it works out that way.

The president’s announcement came after the United States and Great Britain called for a cease-fire in Yemen, which has been described as the greatest humanitarian crisis in the already troubled Middle East. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, along with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, spearheaded the strongest effort yet by Western powers to end the brutal civil war in Yemen, which pits Iranian-backed Houthi rebels against the Saudi-backed coalition government. The war in Yemen has raged for 3½ years with no end in sight.

The pressure on Saudi Arabia to accept a cease-fire in Yemen is seen as an indication that the regime under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has weakened since the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Turkey has accused Saudi Arabia of killing Khashoggi and dismembering his body at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

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The Rubik’s Cube of factions, nations and proxies in the Middle East is truly dizzying. Who are the good guys in the conflict in Yemen, or in the smoldering embers of the civil war in Syria, whose murderous regime has been propped up by Iran and its terrorist arm Hezbollah? Often, it’s hard to tell.

Now, sanctions against Iran are added to the mix. For decades, Iran has been described by the U.S. State Department and the European Union as the world’s most dangerous exporter of terrorism. Its regime is a mortal enemy of Israel and has supplied Hezbolllah and Hamas with hundreds of thousands of missiles aimed at all points on the map of Israel.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump described the Iran nuclear deal as “the worst foreign policy deal in American history” and promised to tear it up in the early days of his administration.  The renewed, stronger sanctions against Iran fulfill that promise. 

But are they a wise decision on the president’s part or another impulsive act to control and dominate the news cycle in the runup to the midterm elections? Throughout his presidency, Trump has shown himself to be a master at taking bold actions that seem designed to insulate him from criticism from mainstream media.   

Another political goal that might have contributed to the scrapping of the Iran nuclear deal is that it was a centerpiece of the presidency of Barack Obama. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry was praised by some within the foreign policy, defense and intelligence establishment for his skillful negotiations with the theocratic and America-hating regime in Tehran. 

Others criticized Obama and Kerry for wanting the deal so much that they were willing to concede nearly every disputed aspect. There was no guarantee under the deal that full and unfettered inspections would be allowed to assure that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons.

 A major feature of the revised Trump policy is that  more than 700 people, entities, vessels and aircraft are going back on the sanctions list, including major Iranian banks, oil exporters and shipping companies. Trump also warned other nations not to try to circumvent the boycott or they, too, would risk severe sanctions.

Critics of the president might accuse him of purposely renewing and increasing sanctions on the eve of the midterms to show voters how tough he is. Supporters will applaud him for standing up to a brutal and terrorist regime that endangers the Middle East and the economic interests of most of the world’s nations.

In a statement explaining his actions, Trump said of the financial toll that earlier sanctions have had: 

“Over the past year, the Iranian rial has lost about 70 percent of its value, and Iran’s economy is sliding into recession. Iran’s inflation rate has nearly quadrupled since May of this year, reaching almost 37 percent in October.  More than 100 companies have decided to cease doing business with Iran, and we expect that number to grow.  Governments and businesses should ask themselves whether continuing to deal with Iran is worth the risk.”

And he clearly spelled out his endgame:

“Our objective is to force the regime into a clear choice: Either abandon its destructive behavior or continue down the path toward economic disaster.”

We hope that the reimposed sanctions prove to be effective and that the U.S.-British effort can attain a cease-fire in Yemen. Failure would only make a very bad situation even worse.