The San Antonio Express-News editorial board gets it. They understand the purpose of real sanctions against Iran. They see that the only way to discourage Iran from proceeding with their nuclear weapons ambitions is to make those ambitions too costly.
The desire to acquire nuclear weapons is uniform among the Iranian leadership. No matter what label they carry — conservative, moderate, reformist — they view nuclear armaments as symbols of national prestige that preserve the revolutionary regime and extend Iranian power in the region.
But as Dennis Ross, a Middle East expert who worked in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, observed in a recent meeting with the Express-News Editorial Board, not everyone among the Iranian elite is prepared to pay any price to possess them. Even the ayatollahs sometimes have to make their ideology conform to reality. Such would be the case if the economic costs of developing nuclear weapons actually undermine the prestige and power they are intended to preserve.
Ross criticized the slow pace of diplomatic efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear weapons program. The U.N. Security Council, he observed, has passed two sanctions resolutions in the past year.
"The problem is they don't touch the economy. They don't deal with credit guarantees, investment, the banking system. They don't deal with any of that," he noted.
Because the new, unilateral sanctions imposed by the US government will hit not only the 25 named individual entities but also foreign banks and businesses that do business with those 25 entities, they can put real economic pressure on Tehran. If other nations also follow suit, the costs to Iran will become unacceptable and they will be forced to reconsider their nuclear ambitions. This is the only meaningful diplomatic pressure that stands a chance of working. Bravo to the SAEN editorial board for getting that.
Meanwhile, Michael Hirsh, writing at Newsweek, shows he doesn't get it at all.
Last weekend I met a happy hard-liner, a senior White House official, at a Washington party. His good mood, it turns out, had a lot to do with the new, uncompromising stance laid out by his boss, George W. Bush, against Iran. Until recently administration hawks had been somewhat worried about where their president was headed. Since the beginning of his second term, in their view, Bush had gone suspiciously soft on the question of how to stop Iran's nuclear program. He had acceded to Condoleezza Rice's demands that the United States back the multilateral diplomatic approach favored by the Europeans. But in the last two weeks the administration has been on a unilateralist tear against Iran once again, issuing hawkish rhetoric that far outpaces anything heard in European capitals. On Thursday the White House announced a broad array of sanctions that affect almost the entire Iranian government. Tehran, meanwhile, has hardened its own position considerably.
The end result of all this may be war, whether anyone really wants it or not.
The end result of doing nothing will be a nuclear armed Iran. They have made it abundantly clear that if they get the bomb, they intend to use the bomb – to wipe Israel off the map. Short of war, the only credible weapon the US has are the economic sanctions that do real damage to the power and prestige of Tehran.
It is real sanctions or war. It really is that simple.