New Congressional Sanctions on Iran Will Backfire . . . on Congress

(By Farhang Jahanpour)

Despite strong opposition by the White House and the States Department and despite the pleadings of some of the most prominent bipartisan US foreign policy luminaries who have warned that additional sanctions would jeopardize ongoing diplomatic efforts, many US senators are pushing forward with a new resolution that is supported by the same neocons that brought us the Iraq war.

It seems that the majority of Congressmen and Senators know very little about Iranian history or what is going on in Iran at present. To say that sanctions have forced Iran to the negotiating table is not entirely correct. The sanctions have certainly affected the Iranian economy, but even Saddam Hussein’s unpopular regime managed to stay in power for many years despite crippling sanctions and it was only a disastrous war and occupation that ultimately deposed him.

Iran has gone through a massive popular revolution, whose main principles were freedom and independence. One of the main reasons why people turned to the revolution that was ultimately dominated by the clerics was that they wanted to put an end to foreign interference in their domestic affairs and to two centuries of foreign domination that had humiliated a proud and ancient nation. Although many people have been disaffected with the religious aspects of the revolution, nevertheless, the principles of freedom, independence and ending foreign interference in Iran are still very strong in the minds of the Iranians, and this is why they are prepared to put up with a great deal of hardship in order to defend those principles. This is why during eight years of a devastating war that Saddam Hussein waged against Iran, with massive regional and Western support, and which resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead and injured and hundreds of billions of dollars worth of economic damage, the masses of people remained steadfast in defending their country.

Despite a negative image of Iran that has been portrayed in the West, the Iranian society is a vibrant, politicized, and engaged society. The massive participation of people in successive elections is a testimony to how engaged people are with politics. In 1997, in a remarkable election with the highest turnout in any presidential election in Iran, the people overwhelming voted for the reformist President Mohammad Khatami. President Khatami’s platform was reform at home and dialog abroad. He proposed a dialog of civilizations and stretched a hand of friendship towards the West. Under President Khatami’s government Iran offered a grand bargain with the United States in 2003 including over the nuclear issue, and Iran even suspended enrichment for over two years and signed the Additional Protocol, only to be rebuffed by the Bush Administration that declared Iran a member of the Axis of Evil. It was that disastrous decision that weakened the reformists and persuaded many people that the West was not after dialog, friendship and reconciliation. It strengthened the hand of the hardliners and resulted in the election of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

In the recent election, once again 75 per cent of Iranians took part in the election and over half of the voters voted for a moderate and pragmatic politician, who again promised a less securitized climate at home and moderation and peaceful coexistence in foreign policy. Within the first 100 days of President Hassan Rouhani’s tenure the remarkable Geneva agreement was signed, which has put drastic curbs on Iran’s nuclear program for relatively modest concessions from the West. The agreement has stopped Iran enriching above five per cent, has called for the conversion of Iran’s stock of uranium enriched up to 20 cent into fuel rods that cannot be converted back for any military purposes, has called for stopping Arak’s heavy water reactor, etc.

That remarkable agreement has many opponents among the hardliners in Iran who have strongly criticized it and who are waiting for an excuse to pounce on it and stop the rapprochement with the West. That agreement has been reached not as a sign of weakness, but as a genuine attempt to put an end to over three decades of hostility with the West. President Ruhani’s. If Congress succeeds to rebuff Iran’s offer of closer ties with America once more, it will prove that the United States is not serious about a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and this will only strengthen the hands of the hardliners once more.

The sanctions are a blunt instrument and there has hardly been any example of the sanctions changing the political behavior of the target country. The aim of the sanctions should be to start negotiations and reach agreement, but if even after the start of the negotiations the sanctions continue they will completely defeat their purpose. It should be remembered that Iran has been under continuous US sanctions since the beginning of the revolution although they have been ratcheted up recently. Nevertheless, Iran has learned to cope with those sanctions and even to benefit from them by making the economy less dependent on oil revenue. Nevertheless, the Iranian oil minister declared on Friday January 10th that since the beginning of the current Iranian year Iran has earned $35 billion dollars from the sale of oil despite the sanctions, so Iran is not on her knees.

The only reason why many European countries joined the US-imposed sanctions’ regime was because allegedly Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Apart from the NIE report in 2007, declaring that Iran did not have an ongoing nuclear weapons’ program, the recent landmark agreement with Iran severely limiting Iran’s nuclear activities has further weakened any suspicion that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Only this week, a British parliamentary delegation led by the former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw visited Iran and met with Iranian president and foreign minister. In a press conference, Jack Straw openly declared that the sanctions were wrong and have to be lifted. Many European firms are already in Iran touting for business. China has indicated that she will be buying more oil from Iran this year, and yesterday Reuters reported that Russia and Iran are close to finalizing an oil-barter deal which would see Moscow trade goods to Tehran in exchange for about 500,000 barrels of oil a day. At current prices, that much oil would be worth about $1.5 billion a month.

Therefore, may be a new resolution by the Senate calling for more sanctions can have only one effect, namely the complete opposite of what they wish to achieve. It will persuade many European countries to go it alone. So, as far as Iran is concerned, may be a new resolution for new sanctions will be the last nail in the coffin of the sanctions’ regime as international confidence in the United States will be totally eroded.

Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Isfahan. He has also taught at Cambridge and Oxford universities and was also a senior Fulbright research scholar at Harvard.

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Related video

Euronews reports on Iran’s response last month to the prospect of further Congressional sanctions

21 Responses

  1. Mr Jahanpour, it is good to hear from someone like you. What your pointing out about Americas allies going it a lone is most interesting. I only wish you had, or may get, a much louder voice. These US senators get a lot of news coverage. I wish us all the luck if your voice gets even half the attention these senators will get.

    More should hear about who Rouhani is. It’s my understanding Rouhani is a moderate. I agree we would not wish to make him look weak at a time like this. I wish him luck.

  2. The majority of Congressmen and Senators know very well that they are corrupted in many ways. But they have the common sense that it is not needed to add to their existing corruption by supporting yet another corrupt and cult government. If the superpower, the USA stops recognizing the Islamic government then it sets a precedence that we are going not to put up with any corruption including the corruption in our own midst.

  3. Congress wants to show that Obama’s word has few takers among legislators while Israel’s aim is to prove that it’s the real boss on the Hill. Since their goals converge to the detriment of U.S. interests it’s a sad day for the American people.

  4. I forgot to mention the EU will cave in to American pressure IF the sanctions are not vetoed by the President. (Anyways it is my understanding that both the Congress and the President do what the Generals tell them to do.)

  5. Once again this is a theocracy that is anathema to the very values and concepts we have with regard to basic human rights. Our founding fathers warned us about any political system run by clergy. The first article of the constitution of Iran stipulates that sovereignty belongs to God not to man.

    Moreover the country is run by an unelected and unaccountable leader that despite his pronouncements on the sin of having nuclear weapons is now using massive killing of civilians in Syria and in which his troops are advising the criminal regime in Syria to kill and starve and bomb and torture and imprison and expel whole towns and villages resulting in a massive population exodus. This exodus is of the same proportion as that of Rwanda and Dr. Cole continues to excuse the depravity and untrustworthiness of the regime in Tehran.

    Not only we need more sanctions but we need to roll back the entire Iranian enterprise in the ME from Beirut to Western Afghanistan. The IRCG has become an institution of graft and corruption and money laundering and the latest scandals in Turkey are but the tip of the iceberg of the effort of this criminal organization to break the sanctions.

    We do not need to go to war and we do not need to fire a single bullet all we need is to help the Iranian people free themselves of the clutches of the clergy running their lives.

    I have asked my two senators and my congressman to toughen the sanctions and to bring the full weight of the Treasury Department not the DOD to bear on this criminal regime.

    Where is the minimum decency about what the regime is doing in Syria? Maybe Dr. Cole should visit Beirut and watch the thousands of Syrian children begging in the streets and the black market in organ transplant flourishing there to remind us of the benign regime in Tehran.

    How about a Sabbatical for the bankrupt academics in Tehran University or better in a Seminary in Qom?

    Please spare us the indignation of sanctions when the regime is barrel bombing the suburbs of Damascus with Iranian weapons and foot soldiers.

    • I have been critical of some of Professor Cole’s coverage of this issue, but I really don’t see where you get the claim that “Dr. Cole continues to excuse the depravity and untrustworthiness of the regime in Tehran.”

    • A partial theocracy in Iran does not threaten American liberties. What the founders were about was preventing a theocracy from arising here in the United States.

      We have far more at stake in engaging Iran than in whether or not rule there is by Mullahs.

      Frankly, sir, the domestic oppression by American Zionists of the Israel Lobby certainly does threaten our liberties. Its purpose is precisely to do that very thing. It is a terrible precedent. In fact the Lobby’s primary purpose is to dominate the national discourse on the *nature* our relationship with Israel and to oppress and intimidate her critics. It is extremely dangerous to let any powerful faction to get away with such a thing. FARA has criminal sanctions to prevent what I speak of. So does the espionage legislations. In neither case can we enforce our law in the face of Israel Lobby and Israeli transgressions.

      Dr. Cole excuses nothing. He is a realist.

      And you, sir, need to ask yourself some tough questions, e.g., why it is that you can not bring yourself to even mention Israel’s role in the giant mess that today is the Middle-East.

  6. You assume the sanctions are there as part of an effort to achieve valid foreign policy goals. I think the sanctions are there so that Senators and Congressmen can show fealty to AIPAC. That won’t change unless AIPAC changes its calculations and stops pushing for them, or if the American electorate rejects AIPAC inspired campaign themes.

    • And President Obama clearly indicating his intent to veto any new sanctions, those legislators can posture for AIPAC to their hearts’ content, without having to worry about the repercussions of their bill actually being adopted.

      • Joe, is this monstrosity merely one in the endless stream of non-binding AIPAC resolutions, or is it actually legislation? It does seem to contain crack pot language undermining the Executive’s role in foreign policy which I wouldn’t expect to find in legislation. Only if you know, I should be doing my own research.

  7. Good article. It seems to me that one key factor was missing in this discussion however. Israel. Sad as it may be, you cannot discuss anything having to do with Middle East or near East politics and the US government without including Israel. Of course this resolution is being driven by pro Israeli members of the Senate. As the author points out here, any further sanctions make no sense. If the US government continues its blind support of Israel in whatever they do, we are only going to further isolate and demean ourselves, and drive Iran further into the embrace of China. You would think that those idiot Senators and the Israeli hardliners would think this through, and realize that if Iran becomes a close ally and trading partner of both China and Europe, they will lose any ability to effect Iran at all.

  8. In the recent election, once again 75 per cent of Iranians took part

    In the United States it was 62 per cent in the last presidential.

      • I am not a fan of Ayatollah Khamenei, but the usual reference to him as the unelected Supreme Leader of Iran is simply wrong. First of all, the term “Supreme Leader” is a title bestowed on him by Western media. In Persian he is referred to simply as “the esteemed” or “the honorable” leader of the revolution. He was elected two terms as Iran’s president with higher than usual number of votes, and he was also elected as the leader by the Assembly of Experts, an assembly of senior clerics whose members are elected by the public. You may disapprove of Iranians elections, but to say that he was unelected is simply wrong.

  9. The Neocons have already calculated that the global sanctions regime is over, they only wish to do a rear-guard action that hurts the Iranian and American people for their refusal to further submit to their nefarious plans.

    Congressmen can be bought 10 pence for a dozen, so it isn’t shocking to see any of them betraying their own people.

    Can we see the 28 redacted pages of the 800 page Congressional 9/11 report that implicates high-level Saudis in 9/11?

    There are some high-ranking American families that have had amazingly close ties to the Saudis, but I digress… Wouldn’t want to “go there” would we?

  10. Bill Stearns

    Excellent. Small error in the middle of paragraph 6, looks like the remainder of an edit (“President Rouhani’s”).

  11. Just right about the likely consequences of new sanctions. If the US were to tighten the sanctions, or even fail to open them up in response to Iran’s cooperation, the rest of the world would jump ship and the US would be isolated. Doing so would also give the Iranian hardliners a leg up, allowing them to denounce cooperation and negotiation as leading nowhere and strengthening them vis a vis the reformers.

    Both of which are, as you say, exactly the opposite of what the sponsors of additional sanctions should hope to achieve.

  12. “The sanctions have certainly affected the Iranian economy, but even Saddam Hussein’s unpopular regime managed to stay in power for many years despite crippling sanctions and it was only a disastrous war and occupation that ultimately deposed him.”

    Saddam Hussein didn’t have to run for re-election. As Americans saw in 2008 and then 2010, a bad economy makes voters eager to turn out the incumbent leadership.

  13. Regardless what the US does, the third-party sanctions will fall apart by the end of 2014. While the US can put whatever direct sanctions on Iran it wants to, the reality is there is zero commercial interaction between the US and Iran, so they are meaningless. Right now there are numerous third-party sanctions where the US is threatening third parties that do business with Iran. These will fall apart for a few very simple reasons (1) China wants to move the world away from the US dollar as the reserve currency and will use US threats to get other countries to join their move away from the dollar. (2) China and many other countries want to develop an alternative to the US/UK dominated SWIFT financial transaction network so that the NSA can not spy on transactions. When it is fully operational, US commercial companies will either have to force SWIFT to allow free transactions with the alternative network (which will hide all “unwanted” transactions) or US companies will have to pull out of SWIFT and go to the new network so they can trade freely with friends and enemies alike. (3) For very valid domestic reasons, most of the countries outside the US and parts of Europe will increase their trade with Iran, especially since Iran is discounting their oil from the global market price (set in NYC and London). Basically, the US has to get the best deal with Iran it can at this moment before most of the third party sanctions disappear and Iran is free to trade with most of the world without consequences. Any further third-party sanctions will NOT only be ignored, but the third parties will severely retaliate against US companies. Any further sanctions will hurt US companies and the US economy and China will become stronger. I suspect that Obama has been told that he either gets this done now or it will never happen and any attempt to attack Iran will lead to massive defeat for the US. Unfortunately too many members of congress can not understand that the US empire is dead and the US military can be humiliated and defeated.

  14. This is a very fine article which first of all depicts the ancient Iranian people humanely and generously. We Americans very rarely read material written from this perspective. The distortions in our mainstream media are pervasive. The atmosphere in the United States regarding Iran has been systematically poisoned. And when she makes an obviously genuine effort to end the impasse it is met with obscurantist malevolence on the right in Washington.

    I hope that the Leadership in Teheran will will see the shameful Israel-mandated and AIPAC-led efforts in our Senate for what they are and will draw no negative conclusions unless fully warranted when the fight is actually over.

    Again, thank you for this fresh perspective.

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