Blogs: Paul Pillar

President Obama Should Visit Hiroshima

How Sanctions Can Reduce U.S. Leverage: The Case of Iran

Paul Pillar

Thus the formidable sanctions edifice aimed at Iran that has been so laboriously erected over the years, with the U.S. Congress repeatedly enacting legislation on the subject as it strains to find additional Iranian things to sanction, is reducing, not increasing, U.S. influence. It has taken away, at least partly, the ability of the United States to induce changed behavior through the prospect of economic relief. The fears and complications involved in the United States imposing such onerous arrangements on the dollar-denominated financial system may, as Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew has warned, also hasten moves away from international use of the U.S. dollar, and that would further reduce U.S. global influence in numerous ways. Even if that were not to happen, it should not be surprising if the next country to be sanctioned by the United States, regardless of the issue, were to react by observing that it has no reason to change its policies because, just as with Iran, it cannot expect its sanction-damaged circumstances to change much even if it does change its policies.

There is significant danger that the Iranians themselves may get sufficiently fed up with the West not living up to its side of the bargain that renunciation of the agreement becomes possible. Or at least Rouhani and the political forces allied with him will find it increasingly hard to answer the Iranian skeptics who question with good reason whether Iran is getting anything out of the agreement; the hardliners in Tehran will be strengthened, and the chance of renunciation will increase.

Of course, collapse of the agreement is exactly what hardliners on the U.S. side, some of whom are complaining today about even the modest steps that the administration is taking to assuage unfounded foreign fears about the consequences of dealing financially with Iran, would like. As has been true all along with such opposition, the opponents need to be asked how collapse of the agreement, which would mean an end to the special scrutiny of the Iranian program and to the special restrictions on Iranian production of fissile material, would be in the interests of the United States and of international security. It clearly would not be; the motivations of opponents have much more to do with the desire to deny Barack Obama a significant foreign policy achievement and/or to stay in line with the wishes of an Israeli government that wants to keep Iran as a perpetually ostracized bête noire.

The drawbacks and misuse of much of the sanctions regime against Iran are grounded as well in how much over time the sanctions have come to be treated as if they were an end in itself, as if any economic pain felt by Iran is ipso facto a gain for the United States, which it is not. The direct economic effect on the United States itself of U.S.-imposed sanctions is negative.

All sorts of misleading statements, such as from Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are currently being applied to the issue of sanctions and Iran. Royce doesn't like that the Obama administration is even considering issuing further clarifications to foreign banks indicating that—while Iran itself and all of its banks still would be firmly shut out of the U.S. financial system—it is permissible for other foreign banks to handle dollar-denominated transactions that involve now-allowed trade with Iran. That clarification, Royce asserts, would be “above and beyond the agreement—in return for nothing.” No, it wouldn't. The partial opening of the Iranian economy to trade and investment that is part of relief from nuclear-related sanctions is fundamental to the agreement. And what it is in return for are all those extraordinary limitations and the intrusive international monitoring that Iran agreed to in the JCPOA.

The editorial writers of the Washington Post go in a similar direction, describing the financial clarifications as “waffling,” although they concede that “there's logic” that such action may be needed to comply with the spirit of the nuclear agreement. But then they, like Royce, try to drag in other matters on which we don't happen to like something Iran is doing, with particular reference to test firing of ballistic missiles. Attempts at such linkage, besides impeding the full carrying out of the spirit and letter of the U.S. side of the agreement that made the nuclear restrictions possible, also fly in the face of the reality that the only way to arrive at such restrictions was for all the negotiating parties to focus explicitly on the nuclear issue and nuclear-related sanctions. If one party or the other had started inserting other issues then there would have been no end to each side throwing its preferred issues on the table, and today there would be no agreement and no restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program.

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ISIS is Losing; Now Comes the Hard Part

Paul Pillar

Thus the formidable sanctions edifice aimed at Iran that has been so laboriously erected over the years, with the U.S. Congress repeatedly enacting legislation on the subject as it strains to find additional Iranian things to sanction, is reducing, not increasing, U.S. influence. It has taken away, at least partly, the ability of the United States to induce changed behavior through the prospect of economic relief. The fears and complications involved in the United States imposing such onerous arrangements on the dollar-denominated financial system may, as Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew has warned, also hasten moves away from international use of the U.S. dollar, and that would further reduce U.S. global influence in numerous ways. Even if that were not to happen, it should not be surprising if the next country to be sanctioned by the United States, regardless of the issue, were to react by observing that it has no reason to change its policies because, just as with Iran, it cannot expect its sanction-damaged circumstances to change much even if it does change its policies.

There is significant danger that the Iranians themselves may get sufficiently fed up with the West not living up to its side of the bargain that renunciation of the agreement becomes possible. Or at least Rouhani and the political forces allied with him will find it increasingly hard to answer the Iranian skeptics who question with good reason whether Iran is getting anything out of the agreement; the hardliners in Tehran will be strengthened, and the chance of renunciation will increase.

Of course, collapse of the agreement is exactly what hardliners on the U.S. side, some of whom are complaining today about even the modest steps that the administration is taking to assuage unfounded foreign fears about the consequences of dealing financially with Iran, would like. As has been true all along with such opposition, the opponents need to be asked how collapse of the agreement, which would mean an end to the special scrutiny of the Iranian program and to the special restrictions on Iranian production of fissile material, would be in the interests of the United States and of international security. It clearly would not be; the motivations of opponents have much more to do with the desire to deny Barack Obama a significant foreign policy achievement and/or to stay in line with the wishes of an Israeli government that wants to keep Iran as a perpetually ostracized bête noire.

The drawbacks and misuse of much of the sanctions regime against Iran are grounded as well in how much over time the sanctions have come to be treated as if they were an end in itself, as if any economic pain felt by Iran is ipso facto a gain for the United States, which it is not. The direct economic effect on the United States itself of U.S.-imposed sanctions is negative.

All sorts of misleading statements, such as from Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are currently being applied to the issue of sanctions and Iran. Royce doesn't like that the Obama administration is even considering issuing further clarifications to foreign banks indicating that—while Iran itself and all of its banks still would be firmly shut out of the U.S. financial system—it is permissible for other foreign banks to handle dollar-denominated transactions that involve now-allowed trade with Iran. That clarification, Royce asserts, would be “above and beyond the agreement—in return for nothing.” No, it wouldn't. The partial opening of the Iranian economy to trade and investment that is part of relief from nuclear-related sanctions is fundamental to the agreement. And what it is in return for are all those extraordinary limitations and the intrusive international monitoring that Iran agreed to in the JCPOA.

The editorial writers of the Washington Post go in a similar direction, describing the financial clarifications as “waffling,” although they concede that “there's logic” that such action may be needed to comply with the spirit of the nuclear agreement. But then they, like Royce, try to drag in other matters on which we don't happen to like something Iran is doing, with particular reference to test firing of ballistic missiles. Attempts at such linkage, besides impeding the full carrying out of the spirit and letter of the U.S. side of the agreement that made the nuclear restrictions possible, also fly in the face of the reality that the only way to arrive at such restrictions was for all the negotiating parties to focus explicitly on the nuclear issue and nuclear-related sanctions. If one party or the other had started inserting other issues then there would have been no end to each side throwing its preferred issues on the table, and today there would be no agreement and no restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program.

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Who's Going to Lead on Climate Change?

Paul Pillar

Thus the formidable sanctions edifice aimed at Iran that has been so laboriously erected over the years, with the U.S. Congress repeatedly enacting legislation on the subject as it strains to find additional Iranian things to sanction, is reducing, not increasing, U.S. influence. It has taken away, at least partly, the ability of the United States to induce changed behavior through the prospect of economic relief. The fears and complications involved in the United States imposing such onerous arrangements on the dollar-denominated financial system may, as Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew has warned, also hasten moves away from international use of the U.S. dollar, and that would further reduce U.S. global influence in numerous ways. Even if that were not to happen, it should not be surprising if the next country to be sanctioned by the United States, regardless of the issue, were to react by observing that it has no reason to change its policies because, just as with Iran, it cannot expect its sanction-damaged circumstances to change much even if it does change its policies.

There is significant danger that the Iranians themselves may get sufficiently fed up with the West not living up to its side of the bargain that renunciation of the agreement becomes possible. Or at least Rouhani and the political forces allied with him will find it increasingly hard to answer the Iranian skeptics who question with good reason whether Iran is getting anything out of the agreement; the hardliners in Tehran will be strengthened, and the chance of renunciation will increase.

Of course, collapse of the agreement is exactly what hardliners on the U.S. side, some of whom are complaining today about even the modest steps that the administration is taking to assuage unfounded foreign fears about the consequences of dealing financially with Iran, would like. As has been true all along with such opposition, the opponents need to be asked how collapse of the agreement, which would mean an end to the special scrutiny of the Iranian program and to the special restrictions on Iranian production of fissile material, would be in the interests of the United States and of international security. It clearly would not be; the motivations of opponents have much more to do with the desire to deny Barack Obama a significant foreign policy achievement and/or to stay in line with the wishes of an Israeli government that wants to keep Iran as a perpetually ostracized bête noire.

The drawbacks and misuse of much of the sanctions regime against Iran are grounded as well in how much over time the sanctions have come to be treated as if they were an end in itself, as if any economic pain felt by Iran is ipso facto a gain for the United States, which it is not. The direct economic effect on the United States itself of U.S.-imposed sanctions is negative.

All sorts of misleading statements, such as from Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are currently being applied to the issue of sanctions and Iran. Royce doesn't like that the Obama administration is even considering issuing further clarifications to foreign banks indicating that—while Iran itself and all of its banks still would be firmly shut out of the U.S. financial system—it is permissible for other foreign banks to handle dollar-denominated transactions that involve now-allowed trade with Iran. That clarification, Royce asserts, would be “above and beyond the agreement—in return for nothing.” No, it wouldn't. The partial opening of the Iranian economy to trade and investment that is part of relief from nuclear-related sanctions is fundamental to the agreement. And what it is in return for are all those extraordinary limitations and the intrusive international monitoring that Iran agreed to in the JCPOA.

The editorial writers of the Washington Post go in a similar direction, describing the financial clarifications as “waffling,” although they concede that “there's logic” that such action may be needed to comply with the spirit of the nuclear agreement. But then they, like Royce, try to drag in other matters on which we don't happen to like something Iran is doing, with particular reference to test firing of ballistic missiles. Attempts at such linkage, besides impeding the full carrying out of the spirit and letter of the U.S. side of the agreement that made the nuclear restrictions possible, also fly in the face of the reality that the only way to arrive at such restrictions was for all the negotiating parties to focus explicitly on the nuclear issue and nuclear-related sanctions. If one party or the other had started inserting other issues then there would have been no end to each side throwing its preferred issues on the table, and today there would be no agreement and no restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program.

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Opaque Strategy and U.S. Troops in Eastern Europe

Paul Pillar

Thus the formidable sanctions edifice aimed at Iran that has been so laboriously erected over the years, with the U.S. Congress repeatedly enacting legislation on the subject as it strains to find additional Iranian things to sanction, is reducing, not increasing, U.S. influence. It has taken away, at least partly, the ability of the United States to induce changed behavior through the prospect of economic relief. The fears and complications involved in the United States imposing such onerous arrangements on the dollar-denominated financial system may, as Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew has warned, also hasten moves away from international use of the U.S. dollar, and that would further reduce U.S. global influence in numerous ways. Even if that were not to happen, it should not be surprising if the next country to be sanctioned by the United States, regardless of the issue, were to react by observing that it has no reason to change its policies because, just as with Iran, it cannot expect its sanction-damaged circumstances to change much even if it does change its policies.

There is significant danger that the Iranians themselves may get sufficiently fed up with the West not living up to its side of the bargain that renunciation of the agreement becomes possible. Or at least Rouhani and the political forces allied with him will find it increasingly hard to answer the Iranian skeptics who question with good reason whether Iran is getting anything out of the agreement; the hardliners in Tehran will be strengthened, and the chance of renunciation will increase.

Of course, collapse of the agreement is exactly what hardliners on the U.S. side, some of whom are complaining today about even the modest steps that the administration is taking to assuage unfounded foreign fears about the consequences of dealing financially with Iran, would like. As has been true all along with such opposition, the opponents need to be asked how collapse of the agreement, which would mean an end to the special scrutiny of the Iranian program and to the special restrictions on Iranian production of fissile material, would be in the interests of the United States and of international security. It clearly would not be; the motivations of opponents have much more to do with the desire to deny Barack Obama a significant foreign policy achievement and/or to stay in line with the wishes of an Israeli government that wants to keep Iran as a perpetually ostracized bête noire.

The drawbacks and misuse of much of the sanctions regime against Iran are grounded as well in how much over time the sanctions have come to be treated as if they were an end in itself, as if any economic pain felt by Iran is ipso facto a gain for the United States, which it is not. The direct economic effect on the United States itself of U.S.-imposed sanctions is negative.

All sorts of misleading statements, such as from Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are currently being applied to the issue of sanctions and Iran. Royce doesn't like that the Obama administration is even considering issuing further clarifications to foreign banks indicating that—while Iran itself and all of its banks still would be firmly shut out of the U.S. financial system—it is permissible for other foreign banks to handle dollar-denominated transactions that involve now-allowed trade with Iran. That clarification, Royce asserts, would be “above and beyond the agreement—in return for nothing.” No, it wouldn't. The partial opening of the Iranian economy to trade and investment that is part of relief from nuclear-related sanctions is fundamental to the agreement. And what it is in return for are all those extraordinary limitations and the intrusive international monitoring that Iran agreed to in the JCPOA.

The editorial writers of the Washington Post go in a similar direction, describing the financial clarifications as “waffling,” although they concede that “there's logic” that such action may be needed to comply with the spirit of the nuclear agreement. But then they, like Royce, try to drag in other matters on which we don't happen to like something Iran is doing, with particular reference to test firing of ballistic missiles. Attempts at such linkage, besides impeding the full carrying out of the spirit and letter of the U.S. side of the agreement that made the nuclear restrictions possible, also fly in the face of the reality that the only way to arrive at such restrictions was for all the negotiating parties to focus explicitly on the nuclear issue and nuclear-related sanctions. If one party or the other had started inserting other issues then there would have been no end to each side throwing its preferred issues on the table, and today there would be no agreement and no restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program.

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