The vote by the UN Security Council today to impose a fourth round of UN-backed sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program—the first three were enacted under pressure from President Bush and his administration, including Ambassador John Bolton—are a sign that President Obama has no idea what to do about Iran.
Hint: sanctions ain’t it.
You’ll hear a lot from the Iran-bashing, neoconservative crowd and from the Obama administration itself, especially the State Department, about what a great victory this is. In particular, you’ll hear Obama and the State Department tout the fact that it was Obama’s brilliant effort to win over Russia and China for the sanctions vote that made all the difference. They’ll tell you that Obama contrived to isolate Iran and to persuade Moscow and Beijing to go along with the new sanctions on Iran, when in fact Russia and China succeeded in ensuring that the sanctions imposed by the UNSC are meaningless. And, of course, President Bush did the same thing, three times: despite Bush’s cowboy approach to unilateral hegemonism and unchecked wars abroad, Bush, too, managed to get Russian and Chinese support for three previous votes at the UNSC for sanctions on Iran between 2006 and 2008.
A self-congratulatory statement from the State Department’s office at the UN—i.e., from Susan Rice’s shop—notes that the United States "remains open to dialogue" with Iran, but it goes on to list no fewer than fourteen new or enhanced sanctions on Iran imposed by UNSC Resolution 1929. In fact, none of the sanctions is worth a damn. None of them are "crippling," none of them target Iran’s oil and gasoline imports, none of them have a thing to do with Iran’s real economy, and none of them will do a thing to persuade, compel, or scare Tehran into changing its policy on its nuclear program. (The fact that the sanctions are so mild and meaningless is the direct result of insistence by Russia and China that the sanctions have no impact on Iran’s population.
So, according to the State Department, the sanctions in Res. 1929 ban nuclear and missile investment abroad, ban Iranian access to a range of conventional arms, restrict Iran’s access to ballistic missile technology, provide for nations to inspect ships carrying cargo to Iran, target the Iran’s shipping firm IRISL and its airline for increased "vigilance," and include various measures dealing with finance, including calling on all nations to "prohibit on their territories new banking relationships with Iran, including the opening of any new branches of Iranian banks, joint ventures and correspondent banking relationships, if there is a suspected link to proliferation." In response, Iran is likely to pretend to be outraged, but in fact Tehran is well aware that the sanctions are merely a political statement. No doubt, Iran is unhappy with the fact that neither Russia nor China acted to block or veto Res. 1929. But they won’t accomplish their objective.
President Ahmadinejad is heading to China soon for a high-profile visit to Shanghai, where he may meet with President Hu Jintao. And Iran has been meeting this week in Turkey with the Turks and the Russians. Not that there isn’t some bad blood between Iran and its Asian allies: Miffed at Moscow and Beijing for backing the sanctions, Iran plans to boycott the latest meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asian proto-alliance linking Russia, China and various central Asian counties in which Iran has "observer" status. Even so, the two big Asian powers aren’t about to let the United States impose harsh new penalties on Iran, and the Iranians know it.