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Discriminating Sanctions

Dan Drezner ponders the options on Iran:

What to do? I think two big questions need to be asked. First, how are the sanctions supposed to work? Is the idea to squeeze the elite coalition ruling Iran just hard enough to get the current leadership to cut a deal? Or is the idea to cause enough discontent with the regime such that it collapses, and then a deal can be struck with the next regime?

The process by which sanctions are supposed to work matters. If the hope is to still do business with the current regime, then targeted or "smart" sanctions make more sense. They're less likely to impact the broader Iranian population -- though, like precision-guided munitions, there will always be collateral damage.

I don't find the smart sanctions strategy all that convincing, as any attempts to "squeeze" the elites will likely affect the general population, too. The IRGC are invested in just about every major industry in the country, and any pain inflicted upon them will likely--one would think--trickle down to the general population.

And I disagree somewhat with the options Drezner lays out. I think broader, or so-called crippling sanctions are just as likely to bring the regime back to the negotiating table should it balk at President Obama's end of year deadline. We perhaps don't give Iranian protesters enough credit, as they are no doubt more than capable of discerning blame for the sanctions levied upon them.

Moreover, I still wonder why the West's Iran policy must be consumed at all by the Green Movement and its actions. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Iran protests are promising, but not paramount. There will be no talk of reform or revolution in Iran if the current regime acquires a nuclear weapon. Once that happens, policy will shift toward containment, negotiation and dismantlement (see North Korea). To prioritize human rights in Iran now would undermine actual reform in Iran down the road.