Sanctions Now or War Later, the choice is yours, Mr. President

Caspian Weekly

Wednesday, 15 July 2009 00:21 Nir BOMS and Shayan Arya,  Middle East

President Obama’s cautious approach to the Iranian crisis has drawn criticism from many quarters including from the ranks of the Iranian opposition and those Republicans in the House and the Senate who sought a more assertive American response. Nevertheless, the President remained consistent in his approach to the Iranian crisis.  He argued that harsh criticism of the government or endorsement of the protests could end up discrediting the protesters. He also thought that  the US should not be seen as  a player in these events  (a claim that was already raised by Iranian President Ahmadinejad).

The President is not alone in his cautious approach.

Senator Luger, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told CNN that it was important to maintain the focus on policy: “Our objective is to stop the nuclear program in Iran.” He continued by saying that “in order to have any relationship you need to meet with people and talk to people.”

Former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, another Republican, argued that America has no choice but to negotiate with whomever controls Iran.

Kissinger might be correct in his observation which follows the President’s line of engagement.

Nevertheless, this should not necessary justify a “hands off” approach.

The Islamic republic is facing its most serious crisis in thirty years.  After a brutal crackdown, what started as a peaceful protest by Iranians for their votes be counted turned into something much larger. Video clips of people shouting “Death to Khamenei” and “Death to the Islamic republic” can be seen on YouTube along with disturbing footage of protesters being beaten and shot by Iranian Basij units.

In the meantime, as riot police are clearing the streets of protesters, seven thousand centrifuges continue to spin and the Islamic regime is getting closer and closer to developing its first nuclear bomb.

If this uprising is allowed to be suppressed by hardliners and Ahmadinejad, the threat of economic sanctions will be crushed with it too. The argument for sanctions claims that pressure on the economy will make people angry and restless and that in turn will force the government to agree to Western demands on the nuclear issue.

But the uprising has already happened and is currently being crushed with live ammunition. If this uprising is allowed to be crushed without any response, the argument behind tougher economic sanctions will be crushed with it as well.

The failure of this wave of protests – especially if it occurs without any international condemnation – will mean that it will take at least several more years before the regime can fear another uprising like this one. This leaves them plenty of time to develop their nuclear weapons!

Hardliners like Ahmadinejad are fully aware of Iran’s importance to the global economy.  They understand that economic sanctions imposed on a nuclear Iran will be short-lived. The global economy and Iran’s geopolitical importance will not allow the international community to ignore Iran indefinitely.

To his credit, President Obama is becoming more critical. In a statement issued on June 20, he said, “We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.”

On June 26, while standing next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama said “A government that treats its own citizens with that kind of ruthlessness and violence and that cannot deal with peaceful protesters who are trying to have their voices heard in an equally peaceful way have moved outside of universal norms – international norms – that are important to uphold,”

Merkel also added that “Iran cannot count on the world turning a blind eye.”

But not turning a blind eye is not enough. It has to come with some serious consequence for the Islamic government. If there was ever a time to impose crushing political as well as economic sanctions on the regime, it is now.

Punishing sanctions have to be put into effect immediately while there is support from the Iranian people. Once the uprising is crushed, it will be too late for sanctions to be effective and the diplomatic channel to stop Islamic regime’s nuclear program may be closed. If tougher economic sanctions are not implemented and the current uprising is successfully suppressed, the international community will be left with only two possible scenarios to deal with Iran’s nuclear program: an uncertain war to stop the program or accepting a radical nuclear Islamic regime in the Persian Gulf. Neither of these is attractive.

For the sake of peace and to prevent further wars let us hope that Obama, Merkel and other world leaders will take bold steps before it is too late.

Nir Boms is the Vice-President of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East and a co-founder of Shayan Arya is an Iranian activist and a member of the Constitutionalist Party of Iran.

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