Thursday, March 26, 2009

Will Sanctions Work?

It has been suggested that properly applied pressure, in the form of sanctions, will result in bringing about any measure of compliance of the Iranian government with standards dictated by Western ideals.

I must emphatically disagree. The reasons why Iran will not comply with pressure from the West are extensive and profound. They have everything to gain by defiance, and everything to lose by compliance.

The Islamic revolution and Western ideals are mutually incompatible. The Islamic Republic cannot agree without denying it's own core values, and it's emergent identity.

Furthermore, in the current global atmosphere, there is far less ability for us to exert influence, and every incentive for Iran to seize opportunity now. If there was a time sanctions would have worked, it is certainly passed. The time to take Iran to task was sometime around 1992-1994, when the US was virtually unopposed in the global arena, flush with cash, and still feeling patriotic about Iraqi's surrendering to American journalists and photographers.

Here's a few reasons why I think we won't have the same story to tell about Iran.

Increasing Credibility

Confronting the West is the primary mechanism Iran uses to make themselves look stronger, and thereby gain support, ever growing in political power, aided by an all too sympathetic liberal press, and the taboo-to-condemn Islamic press. This is the same process that has legitimized outlaw terrorist groups as actual and official government organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas, Fatah.

At this moment, the West is weak, fractured, preoccupied, over-extended economically, politically and militarily, and lacks experienced, capable, decisive leadership. All of which allows Iran to move much more boldly than in the past.

Their actions in supporting Hamas, Hezbollah, and others provide avenues for credibility in bringing together both Shia and Sunni opposition, via a common enemy (the West). This is a key long-term strategy and is finally beginning to bear fruit for them. Bringing together factions by creating and demonizing a common enemy rarely fails. It worked for Hannibal, Clovis, Hitler, and it's working for Iran in an area where they cannot progress any other way. There is nothing that brings people together like a common enemy.

Compliance with the West will destroy any cross-faction credibility they have gained there, while providing nothing in return. What does the West, US, UN, EU, Britain, NATO or IAEA have to offer in exchange? Iranian leadership is not suffering from sanctions, thanks to their veto friend Russia, and sometimes China. Any shortages on the street have more to do with internal politics than restricted international trade. Sanctions have not stopped Busehr, Natanz, the Shahib projects or anything else from going forward either.

The only delays in the Islamic world are created by Israeli strikes on nuclear facilities. Twice, no thanks to support from the West. Belated Western confirmation on Syrian aspirations notwithstanding.

Strengthening Support

They have Russian support.
  1. Iran is yet one more distraction to keep Western attention away from Russia.
  2. The Kremlin values its weapons and oil trade deals with Iran more than appeasing inconsistent US politicians.
  3. The President and Prime Minister are both personally vested in the Russian energy contracts.
  4. The Kremlin is thrilled to see a small nation as Iran putting the US back on its heels.
  5. It also provides for Mr. Putin to observe how Mr. Obama deals with such a sticky situation. He learns his opponent’s tactics without revealing any of his own.
  6. Mr. Putin has clearly demonstrated his ability to move decisively against NATO with impunity, as in Georgia, not to mention new deployments and patrols in the Pacific, Arctic, and Caribbean, which Washington publicly dismisses, but internally is frustrated by an inability to respond.

They are gaining Chinese support.
  1. China needs oil. They will also need natural gas.
  2. China needs trade agreements.
  3. China needs to marginalize Western dominance at any opportunity, for reasons not so dissimilar to Iran's.

They get all of this by tacit approval of Iran as well. If they can gain trade agreements with other nations that marginalize US influence at the same time, thats a double bonus for them.

At some point, support for Iran could conceivably reach a critical mass where dissenting Arab nations would have little choice but to go along with certain Iranian proposals, whether they like it or not.

Any dominating power eventually creates a backlash by those over whom it has reigned, and this is happening to Americans everywhere. The Islamic world is keenly aware, and relishes the change whether they admit it or not. Lets revisit Poland vs. Russia; this is exactly why Poland is so eager for the American missiles, after being dominated by the USSR for so long.

Weakening Opposition

There won't be any allied opposition because of the decreasing unity among Western Allies, not least of which is NATO. Examples:

  • On one side, Ukraine and Poland are willing to confront Russia. There is deep distrust because USSR domination is still quite fresh in memories of their leaders. I already mentioned Poland's eagerness and the reason why.
  • On the other side, Ukraine and Germany are not so willing to confront Russia because this is where most of their gas comes from.
  • In the middle, Saakashivilli manages to embarrass both sides at the same time, thus proving that there is in fact, no middle ground either.
  • NATO obviously cannot admit Georgia, but this leaves Ukraine in the lurch, while they contend with internal upheaval and Russian pressure over energy. They want an ally, but must accept Russian demands because, who is the West in the Ukraine?
  • There is little agreement among EU nations, and growing discontent in the current economic climate.

The only thing surprising here is that Putin hasn't used Germany as a wedge to break NATO in half. Clearly, Western alliances are fracturing. This presents a golden opportunity for anyone else capable of exploiting and gaining from it. Ali Khameni has been around long enough to recognize it too, if he was paying attention. But maybe he just doesn't know how.

Today, the most you can get is a lot UN signatures if you just want people to stop shooting, no matter what else is going on. Importantly, “stop shooting” does not apply to any Iranian R&D program. Until it's too late, anyway.

The US is weak, uninterested, and otherwise occupied

Economic sanctions have accomplished nothing, and there is no interest in conflict either.

The US president is an attorney who is very good at talking, looking good, and pandering to Hollywood, but not so good at anything else. Thats why he made a YouTube video for Nowruz, instead of sending David Petraeus to say “Hello and congratulations” to Benjamin Netanyahu or even tour some bases in Turkey, or make recommendations on the Crimean pipeline. Sigh. At least we have an Aegis group in the Sea of Japan now, but really, was that a hard decision? I certainly hope not. This is an important fact: Barak Obama is the least experienced of anyone at the table. And he is supported by a liberal majority, who also have nothing to gain financially from conflict with Iran, and everything to gain by avoiding it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Barak Obama will do nothing forever, but I do think he will wait until it's too late, and then probably he will do too much.

The new US administration has far too many complicated issues to deal with already. The economic situation dominates American and much of the global attention now. And they haven't even inked out a comprehensible position on anything yet, other than throw out good money after bad.

There is no interest in spending even more money on a new military conflict, but rather the opposite. Barack Obama wants to reduce military deployment and expenditures. His government and country needs the money, and he wants the domestic and international political capitol he imagines he can gain from the reductions.

This view is bolstered by the fact that he defeated an actual military hero in a Presidential election. The US doesn't want confrontation on any front. They want comfy homes, a vacation, and a college education for their children.

Confronting Iran is complicated by Russian interests, as well as Beijing and other arrangements involving oil served in pipelines, with money baskets, back scratching and formal contracts, served with suspicion for all and by all. This is simply too much for a new administration who already have too much on their plate with the growing meltdown and its attendant domestic disapproval, coupled with the sudden depreciation of influence and increased global disapproval of the US in general. Meanwhile, every time the White House looks at the board, our friendly KGB man and his protégé have moved the pieces again. So when a guy like Barak Obama is planning on re-election, damage control takes precedence over getting one's hands dirty.

Moreover, even if he wanted to (he doesn't), the US has no credible military pressure against Iran right now anyway.

The US already has two major deployments, with all reserves deployed for three years now. As a Marine friend of mine succinctly stated: “There's not enough troops in Fort Bragg to fight off an invasion from the Post Office.” There are simply not enough assets to confront Iran militarily. At least not without a draft, and that would certainly end any chance for Mr. Obama’s re-election, who is more concerned with politics, money, prestige, and all that goes with re-election, than any “unpleasantness”. Like war, depression, or terrorism.

Iranian Leadership cannot survive without defiance

With each provocation, the Iranian government furthers its identification with radical Islam, which identifies itself by it's philosophy of martyrdom for the sake of destroying the West.

So Ali Khameni knows that so long as he keeps his formal military within his own borders, then he is free to pursue any program he wants. Not only does it work to his advantage to defy the US, but in fact the Iranian leadership knows its survival depends on it.

If they have any lofty expansion plans, those will be contingent on how successful they are at contending with and overcoming roadblocks made by the West, too. They will never accomplish their goals by playing along with our standards, because they would cease to be what they are if they tried to. So, while he is not likely to invade Iraq or Israel, Khameni is politically bound to pursue military superiority over his neighbors. This includes any and all weapons development, with an added incentive for developing systems the West frowns upon, no matter how harshly we frown.

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