New sanctions against Iran will accomplish nothing


The Bush administration declared new economic sanctions against Iran Oct. 25. The sanctions, announced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, like those already in place, will accomplish nothing except to increase international tensions. 

The new sanctions are an extension of a long-standing failed policy first begun under the Reagan administration, and extended under the Clinton administration. The United States is acting totally alone; it is not supported by any other nation.

American dealings with Iran have failed in large part because the United States has never articulated what it wants to accomplish. They mostly consist of calls for Iran to cease doing things that Iran says it is not doing in the first place. 

The principal accusations against Iran include: developing nuclear weaponry, supporting terrorist groups, and providing arms to Iraqi insurgents. The United States then tries to prove that Iran is indeed carrying out the things it is accused of. The Iranians counter with further proof that the accusations are baseless, and the exchange repeats.

There has never been any proof that Iran’s domestic nuclear energy program is directed at developing nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), charged with inspecting nuclear facilities under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory, has repeatedly asserted that no evidence of Iranian nuclear weapons development exists. Iran’s leaders also maintain that they are not developing nuclear weapons. The country’s spiritual leader, Ali Khamene’I, has declared that nuclear weapons development is illegal in the Islamic Republic. 

The Bush administration obscures these inconvenient facts with statements like those made recently by President Bush, who said Oct. 17, “If you’re interested in avoiding World War III . . . you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon,” implying that the weapons are currently being developed.

Iran’s level of support for terrorist groups is also far lower than it seems. Iran provided humanitarian support for the Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority after Israel and the United States established an international embargo of funds for that government. Although Iran was instrumental in the founding of Lebanese Hezbullah, Tehran no longer has any effective influence or control over this group, which has evolved into an active political party with a large number of parliamentary representatives and government officials in Lebanon today. In his new book, neoconservative Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute maintains that Iran supports Al-Qaeda, and that Iran was instrumental in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States – but this assertion and similar claims that Iran supports the Taliban make no logical sense. Both conservative Sunni Al-Qaeda and the Taliban reject Shi’ism, the state religion of Iran, as a heresy, and sanction the killing of Shi’ites.

Finally, there is no proof that Iran is supporting attacks against Americans in Iraq. As analysts Seymour Hersh, Gareth Porter and others have pointed out, the Bush administration, having failed to establish that Iran is actually developing nuclear weapons, has turned in desperation to the claim that Iran is supplying explosive devices to militias in Iraq through the offices of the Revolutionary Guard and its specialized Quds force. General David Petraeus himself has admitted that no Iranian Quds force member has ever been captured in Iraq, and evidence of Iranian-supplied weapons in Iraq is nebulous. 

The U.S. sanctions will fail because Iran still has many friends. Europeans still have extensive trade with Iran. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently warned the United States not to think of attacking Iran. On Oct. 16, the nations bordering the Caspian Sea, including Iran, issued a declaration in which the countries agreed that none would allow their territories to be used as a base for military strikes against any of the others. India has renewed talks with Iran to establish a pipeline between the two nations. Iran has a positive balance of trade with China, as well as India. China’s leadership has repeatedly declared that Iran’s nuclear energy program is not an international threat. Japan continues to be an important Iranian trade and diplomatic partner.

It’s little wonder that the new sanctions are being greeted with skepticism by the international community of nations. The sanctions are so insubstantial that it seems they are actually designed to fail. Increasingly, it seems that the United States itself does not believe in them, but has only imposed the sanctions as a prelude to military action. As in the build-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the world awaits the announcement from the White House that, “having tried everything,” nothing was left except bombing Iran.

William O. Beeman is professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He is president of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association, and has conducted research in Iran for more than 30 years. The second edition of his book, “The ‘Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other,” will be published by the University of Chicago Press.