In today’s New York Times, Mark Landler’s insightful article “U.S. Is Seeking a Range of Sanctions Against Iran” highlights some of the political problems with the efforts by the United States to impose stringent sanctions on Iran.
Landler points out that the United States’ plans to end oil and gas shipments to Iran may well backfire. Ordinary Iranians would be so negatively affected by such an embargo that public opinion could swing towards a currently weakened Ahmadinejad. If that were to occur, then the still burgeoning protest movement in Iran could be crushed by a revitalized government.
Iran has proved resilient to sanctions, having weathered them in one form or another since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. And the political upheaval there creates a new complication: Western countries do not want to impose measures that deepen the misery of ordinary people, because it could help the government and strangle the fragile protest movement.
The article is a timely and necessary warning to United States officials that the most obvious solution, so called “crippling sanctions,” might not be the best choice. It would probably feel good to decisively punish a regime that has been a consistent source of frustration; however, the unintended consequences of swift action may be come swiftly evident in the opinion of the Iranian public.
That is the inherent problem with any action, whether by an individual or government, that affects the lives of a group of people; there is no way to control how that action will be interpreted by the group that is on the receiving end. United States government officials who are advocating strict sanctions on Iran are well advised to read Landler’s article, and consider the potential unintended consequences of “crippling” sanctions.