On reading ‘Iran Sanctions’ from the Congressional Research Service

Kenneth Katzman’s latest assessment of international sanctions against Iran is mind-blowing, even for someone as jaded on the topic as I am. Those of us who follow the subject have known for years that sanctions on Iran are completely irrational, a form of what Richard Haass calls “sanctioning madness,” a policy that is pursued for its own sake without consideration of its demonstrated failure.

The list of sanctions and penalties against Iran seems endless. Katzman needs 50 pages just to describe all of them. In exhaustive detail he reviews the dozens of laws, regulations and executive orders that apply to almost every form of interaction with Iran, and that also impose penalties on those from other countries, requiring them to reduce or sever trade with Iran if they want to do business in the U.S.

What have all these sanctions wrought? Read for yourself:

  • “There is a consensus that U.S. and U.N. sanctions have not, to date, accomplished their core strategic objective of compelling Iran to verifiably limit its nuclear development to purely peaceful purposes.”
  • “International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports have said that Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium more rapidly continues to expand, as does its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium. And, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified on March 12, 2013, that Iran ‘is expanding the scale, reach, and sophistication of its ballistic missile arsenal.’”
  • “Sanctions do not appear to have materially reduced Iran’s capability to finance and provide arms to militant movements in the Middle East and to Syria.”
  • “A congressionally-mandated Defense Department report of April 2012 called into question whether sanctions would erode Iran’s conventional military capabilities.”
  • “U.S. and international sanctions have not, to date, had a measurable effect on human rights practices in Iran.”

While sanctions have had no impact in changing Iran’s nuclear policies, they are devastating the Iranian economy. The results of sanctions, according to Katzman, include falling oil revenues and production, shrinking GDP per capita, a collapsing currency, rising inflation, and declining industrial production—in short an economic disaster that is causing serious hardships for millions of Iranians.

Despite this record of failure, some members of Congress are sponsoring legislation to pile on even more sanctions – jeopardizing the diplomatic opportunity presented by the election of an Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, who has indicated a desire to engage productively on the nuclear issue.

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The Nightmare in Egypt

In his statement condemning the violence in Egypt President Obama has asked his national security team to assess the implications of the military’s assault against its own people. There is no need for long deliberations. The likely consequences are uniformly grim.

This is a grave setback for the cause of democracy and the prospects for nonviolent change. From the blood of the many ‘martyrs’ killed by the military will grow seeds of revenge and retaliatory violence. Chaos and terror will likely spread in Egypt and beyond.

The military may be able to kill and imprison the leaders of the Islamic Brotherhood, but they will not be able to crush the broader Islamic movement, or alter the fact that Islam has been and remains the dominant political force in Egypt and most Arab countries.

The slaughter now underway undermines the hope for democratic politics in Egypt and most of the Arab world. No Islamic political leader in the region will be able to argue credibly that the methods of democracy are a viable path to progress.

The same is true for the use of nonviolent methods of change. The dreams of the youth who led the unarmed revolution have turned into a nightmare, their bright hopes shattered by mass killing in the streets. Few will believe any longer in the power of nonviolence.

President Obama should take more forceful action, joining with other nations to seek a quick end to military rule and a return to civilian rule.