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Sanctioning Iran Is Risky for America

Bonnie Kristian

Iran, Persian Gulf

A more measured and realistic approach would better serve America and the Iranian people alike.

The Trump administration on Monday re-imposed all the sanctions on Iran that remained suspended following 2015’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal from which President Donald Trump withdrew the United States earlier this year. Targeting oil exports, banking, shipping and more, the sanctions are intended to bend Tehran’s will to Washington’s desires. “I am very confident that the sanctions…will have the intended effect to alter the Iranian regime's behavior,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Fox News Sunday. “That's our expectation.”

It is an expectation likely to be disappointed, and not—as reckless voices like Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) have claimed—because these measures are not tough enough. The sanctions are likely to be ineffective because sanctions are usually ineffective: they excel at harming the vulnerable and rarely succeed at coercing the powerful. This is particularly true when dealing with undemocratic states like Iran, where ordinary citizens who suffer sanctions’ ill effects have no real control over their government’s actions.

The risk of unintended consequences here is grave for all involved, threatening the wellbeing of the Iranian people, damage to U.S. relations with our allies and U.S. entanglement in a third Gulf War. These punitive measures with no plausible positive outcome are a route to further conflict, not cooperation, peace or the advancement of American interests. Our aim should be productive engagement with Iran, and fantasies about sanctioning Tehran into western-style democracy do not further that end.

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