The Upside of Russia's Resistance to Sanctioning Iran

Critics maul Obama for losing Russian support on sanctions against Iran's nuclear program, but there may be a silver lining

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In a setback for President Obama's administration, Russia announced on Tuesday that threatening Iran with sanctions for its nuclear program would be "counterproductive." The administration had hoped that scaling back the U.S. missile shield in Europe would win Russian support for sanctions. In the blog world, President Obama's critics have pounced on the issue, slamming him a second time for giving up the missile shield (which was of debatable benefit) for nothing. On the other side of the coin, some analysts argue that economic sanctions wouldn't curb Iran's nuclear ambitions and in fact, may actually help Ahmadinejad.

  • More Nobel-Worthy Diplomacy, writes Jennifer Rubin at Commentary: "This is what constitutes smart diplomacy: pull the rug out from under your friends, renounce your own interests, defer confronting enemies of the U.S., and then declare the wonders of interdependence and multilateral cooperation. It's the stuff of Nobel Peace prizes." Steve Gilbert at Sweetness & Light adds, "Alas, we fully realize that this is merely the official signal to the world that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have completely caved to the Russian position on Iran. You see all the good that has come from giving up that missile shield in Europe?"
  • Russia Was Never Going to Agree to Sanctions, writes Boris Morozov at The Jerusalem Post: "Russia isn't willing to forgo its economic relations with Iran. It benefits from the construction of a nuclear power station as it competes for supplying the necessary raw materials and supplies Iran with different types of weapons (including anti-aircraft), not to mention regular trade. This is probably one of the main reasons Russia is interested in preserving good relations with Iran."

  • Sanctions Wouldn't Have Worked Anyway, writes Djavad Salehi-Isfahani at the Brookings Institute: "The case for sanctions as an effective foreign policy tool is strongest when the country in question is brimming with internal political tensions caused by years of stagnation or decline in living standards, which sanctions can intensify to bring about the desired policy shift by the country's rulers. This is not the situation in Iran....Against this backdrop, engagement, as originally espoused by President Obama, may have a better chance of diffusing the crisis."
  • Sanctions Might Actually Help Ahmadinejad, adds Alireza Nader at the Rand Corporation: "A lot of companies that have invested in the economy are linked to the Revolutionary Guard," says the Iran expert. "You can make the argument that if you scare away foreign investors, you are strengthening the Guard. Under sanctions, the underground economy would increase and funnel more money to them." The Huffington Post's Melody Moezzi agrees: "Iran has been under sanctions for the past 30 years, and its behavior has not changed as a result. What has changed, however, is the social and economic condition of the Iranian people," she writes. "Foreign sanctions or military attacks would thus prove counterproductive in that they would only strengthen the regime by punishing the Iranian people for the actions of their illegitimate rulers."
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