This week, I’ll be writing a series on Groundswell covering some of the many reasons why we must ramp up our efforts to oppose sanctions.
Throughout the week, I’ve laid out some of the most compelling reasons why the US should abandon the idea of passing sanctions to ban gas imports to Iran. So what should the US do? In the short term, it’s important to continue the Obama administration’s policy of noninterference to allow the domestic tension to come to a resolution within Iran. Eventually, however, we will need to resolve outstanding tensions with Iran, and the only viable option for doing so is diplomacy. The Obama administration has maintained its commitment to engaging with Iran, though there is much discussion from Congress and other corners pushing for an arbitrary deadline of September for closing the door on talks. Negotiating directly is the best solution we have available, but if Congress passes sanctions, they are threatening the opportunity for a nonviolent resolution of tensions.
The various dynamics I discussed in this series, from empowering the regime to contributing fodder for anti-western diatribes to hurting the Iranian people, will poison the environment and make reaching out diplomatically incredibly challenging if not impossible. However one feels about the current regime, diplomacy is not a reward for good behavior, but a pragmatic tool used to resolve conflict and protect US security. Negotiations are hampered by a hostile environment; the Iranian regime wants to be treated as a peer and power broker, as it is in the Middle East, and it’s impossible to convey that respect while simultaneously trying to cripple the Iranian economy.
Passing economic sanctions also steps up the level of belligerence and nudges the US and Iran toward more violent interaction with Iran. While few sane people (meaning not John Bolton) think the military action is a reasonable approach, there are still proponents of an attack. We can easily, unwittingly find ourselves closer to that possibility following the escalation of nonmilitary harsh actions. The New York Times notes some of the potential consequences:
But enforcing what would amount to a gasoline embargo has long been considered risky and extremely difficult; it would require the participation of Russia and China, among others that profit from trade with Iran. Iran has threatened to respond by cutting off oil exports and closing shipping traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, at a moment that the world economy is highly vulnerable.
One can only imagine what kind of response Congress would clamor for if Iran followed through on this threat. Ed Morse and Michael Makovsky note the measures that could be needed to enforce a gas embargo on Iran (and frighteningly consider it an option to have on the table):
If the United States is committed to using an energy lever, the only effective one available is to deploy a naval blockade to interdict Iran’s gasoline imports, and possibly its oil exports. Since this would be tantamount to an act of war, it should only be initiated by the United States and its allies after diplomacy and financial sanctions have failed, as a last measure short of a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
If you think promoting diplomacy is challenging right now, just imagine trying to engage Iran if any of these scenarios came about. This is where the US Congress is irresponsibly leading us, and we need to step in before it is too late.
I started this year very optimistic about the possibility for drastically shifting our relationship with Iran. The disputed election and its aftermath have been a blow to many of us who support diplomacy between our countries and human rights in both the US and Iran. But there is still an opportunity to start moving our relationship in a new direction, and improved relations between our countries will not only make us safer, it can also open up space for reform within Iran. But if we want to see that happen, we need to take action. Click here to urge your representative to oppose a vote on sanctions.