Sanctioning Ourselves

Paul Pillar points out the costs to the US of applying sanctions to foreign countries, particularly countries like Iran:

The formidable, fear-inducing enforcement of U.S. sanctions against Iran entails substantial costs for U.S. companies. Not only are these companies excluded from some major opportunities for new business; they have to jump through additional hoops to make sure they do not run afoul of the enforcers in areas where they still are doing business. A Washington Post story concerns how this fear leads American companies to report to government regulators in excruciatingly minute detail anything they do that could conceivably brush up against the sanctions. Citibank, for example, felt it necessary to report that it made four dollars in profit from ATM transactions in Bahrain that involved a joint venture that included two Iranian-owned banks.

It is remarkable that some members of Congress who otherwise do not hesitate to preach that onerous government regulations and the administrative burdens they impose are bad for the American economy are also enthusiastic backers of the sanctions.

Earlier this week, Beinart railed against any new Iranian sanctions:

If today’s conservatives actually studied Reagan, instead of deifying him, they might find a useful model in the way he handled the Soviet Union.

Early in his presidency, Ronald Reagan brought massive pressure to bear on Moscow. But when that pressure helped bring to power Mikhail Gorbachev, a man genuinely interested in ending the Cold War, Reagan moved decisively to buttress Gorbachev at home. He did so even though it required American concessions in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that outraged Reagan’s hawkish base. And Reagan’s strategy of supporting Gorbachev worked. “If Reagan had stuck to his hard-line policies in 1985 and 1986,” wrote longtime Soviet ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Dobrynin, “Gorbachev would have been accused by the rest of the Politburo of giving everything away to a fellow who does not want to negotiate. We would have been forced to tighten our belts and spend even more on defense.”

Today, America should make a similar investment in Hassan Rouhani, not because Rouhani will give America everything it wants, but because if he fails, America will get far less. Legislating new sanctions now, even if they don’t immediately take effect, could destroy Rouhani’s nuclear diplomacy. If that happens, we may have to wait years more for leaders willing to cap Iran’s nuclear program and end its cold war with the West. And by the time they come along, who knows how many centrifuges Iran will have?