Will Iran Face Real Sanctions?

January 1st, 2012 at 6:09 am David Frum | 29 Comments |

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On the last day of 2011, President Obama “with reservations” signed the authorization for the 2012 defense budget.

The president said he objected to language in the bill that granted him powers to detain terror suspects indefinitely – but forbade him to transfer detainees to the mainland US. Unmentioned in the signing statement was another section of the bill his administration had fought even harder than the detainee language: new sanctions on the central bank of Iran, an amendment pushed hard by Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois.

According to one knoweldgable observer:

Effective immediately, any Iranian central bank money that hits US jurisdiction must be frozen.  Additionally, today starts a 60 day clock until sanctions must be imposed on any foreign financial institution that conducts transactions with or through the central bank of Iran for non-petroleum purposes. That means the Treasury Dept has less than 60 days to publish draft and then final rules to implement the sanctions – this will be the next key set of events to watch closely to see how the Administration chooses to define certain words to either narrow or expand the application.

Separately, today starts a 180 day clock until the imposition of sanctions on petroleum-related transactions trough or with the CBI.

These constitute the harshest sanctions yet on Iran, the ultimate test of whether the Iranian nuclear bomb can be halted without war. However, the administration has wide authority to waive the sanctions and thereby obviate the test. The administration will be strongly tempted to do just that, unless Congress and public opinion object and make their objections felt. Everybody should now watch the administration’s choices carefully: Iran announced January 1 that it had succeeded in enriching a whole fuel rod. Decision day is arriving fast.

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29 Comments so far ↓

  • Nanotek

    “However, the administration has wide authority to waive the sanctions and thereby obviate the test. The administration will be strongly tempted to do just that…”

    only if that is in America’s best interest …

  • TerryF98

    “The president said he objected to language in the bill that granted him powers to detain terror suspects indefinitely ”

    The bill actually allows the military to detain and hold AMERICAN citizens in AMERICA indefinitely and in secret without trial.

    McCain. Lieberman and Graham pushed for this, it’s a disgrace and when the next Neocon president uses this power to silence critics Frum will defend the law as necessary in the Great War On Terror ™

    • valkayec

      According to the story I read yesterday, that portion of the bill was struck – removed – at the President’s demand prior to the final vote.

      • dante

        That’s correct. The final bill states that nothing in it can be construed as allowing the indefinite detention of American citizens or people captured on American soil.

        Unfortunately people would rather rant and rave about something that they heard on the interwebs…

        • icarusr

          You mean Glenn Greenwald from the left and Secessionist here are exaggerating? Obama is not the second coming of Lucifer (at least for this reason)? Shocked.

        • TerryF98

          Then why did the Obama signing statement say this.

          “”I want to clarify that my administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” Obama wrote. “Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My administration will interpret section 1021 [of the bill] in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.”"

          And what is to say that a future Bushian administration would not revel in the codification of detention and trial without charge?

        • dante

          So this part *wasn’t* written into the bill?

          In order to satisfy the administration and other opponents’ concerns, the final legislation states that nothing in it may be “construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.”

      • gmat

        That’s good news, thanks.

        I was really getting worried that the US, numbed by the chronic War on Terror folly, was going to take one step too many toward that place from which no republic returns.

    • Houndentenor

      If Republicans are willing to hand Obama the power to arrest and detain US citizens indefinitely, they can’t really believe he’s the monster that the right-wing talking heads make him out to be.

  • ConnerMcMaub

    In all fairness David should have pointed out President Obama has been much more successful in getting China and Russia not to veto sanctions than President Bush was.

    United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 – passed on 23 December 2006. Banned the supply of nuclear-related materials and technology and froze the assets of key individuals and companies related to the program.
    United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747 – passed on 24 March 2007. Imposed an arms embargo and expanded the freeze on Iranian assets.
    United Nations Security Council Resolution 1803 – passed on 3 March 2008. Extended the asset freezes and called upon states to monitor the activities of Iranian banks, inspect Iranian ships and aircraft, and to monitor the movement of individuals involved with the program through their territory.
    United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929 – passed on 9 June 2010. Banned Iran from participating in any activities related to ballistic missiles, tightened the arms embargo, travel bans on individuals involved with the program, froze the funds and assets of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, and recommended that states inspect Iranian cargo, prohibit the servicing of Iranian vessels involved in prohibited activities, prevent the provision of financial services used for sensitive nuclear activities, closely watch Iranian individuals and entities when dealing with them, prohibit the opening of Iranian banks on their territory and prevent Iranian banks from entering into relationship with their banks if it might contribute to the nuclear program, and prevent financial institutions operating in their territory from opening offices and accounts in Iran.

    • armstp

      Conner

      You are exactly right. 2011 was a pivotal year in the U.S. and Muslim world relationship. Obama has been 100% perfect. We could not wish for a better President on foreign policy and with regard to our relationship with the Muslim world. He offers a very different take on the “Axis of Evil”.

      Here is a very good article by Juan Cole:

      2011: End of US Hyperpower & its War with Islamdom

      Some years are pivotal and serve to mark off eras of history. 2011 saw the end of American hyperpower, and it announced the end of a decade of US-Muslim conflict that began with 2001. It saw the killing of Usama Bin Laden, the virtual rolling up of al-Qaeda, the repudiation of al-Qaeda’s methods by the masses of the Arab world, and the US military withdrawal from Iraq. The upheavals of the Arab Spring and subsequent elections have led to Muslim fundamentalist parties being drawn into parliamentary politics on a Westminster model, rather than remaining sect-like corporate groups outside the body politic.

      The changes in government have left the US and the UK with no choice but to deal with parties such as al-Nahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which right wing members of Congress had earlier lambasted as proto-terrorist organizations. In Libya, the US and NATO allied with the Muslim masses against dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and some of their new allies had been Muslim radicals earlier. Although the degree of US-Muslim polarization of the period 2001-2011 was often exaggerated (Turkey and Morocco, e.g., were American allies), the three unconventional wars (Afghanistan, Iraq and al-Qaeda), along with significant tensions elsewhere (Sudan, Somalia) did create an over-all bipolar framework.

      The end of the Cold War, which had stretched from 1946 to 1991, had left the political elites of the United States and Western Europe without a bogeyman or security threat on which they could run for office and through which they could funnel resources to the military-industrial complex that largely pays for their political campaigns. With Russia in steep decline in the 1990s and China still run as a small, cautious power, the US emerged as what the French called a Hyperpower, the sole superpower. US hawks were impatient that Bill Clinton seemed not to realize that he had complete freedom of movement for a brief window of time. It was the new US status of hyperpower that allowed the G. W. Bush administration to respond to the September 11 terrorist attacks by launching two major wars and a host of smaller struggles, all against targets in the Muslim world.

      As of 2011, the age of the US hyperpower is passing, along with the possibilities for American wars of choice, i.e., wars of aggression.

      The most potent symbol of this change is Syria, where US freedom of movement in staging any sort of intervention is constrained by Russia and China.

      In 1991, the US was 25 percent of global GDP. Today, it is 20 percent. In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US was the only country in the top 10 global economies with a substantial ability to act alone in projecting military force in the world. Japan and Germany maintained militaries only for self-defense. France, Italy, the UK and Spain typically worked within a NATO framework (except for French interventions in Africa). Brazil was relatively inward-looking. US supremacy was announced with the Gulf War, even before the Soviet system had quite collapsed. Premier Mikhail Gorbachev was unable to protect a former Soviet client state, Iraq, from US ire. And George H. W. Bush put together a coalition of two dozen allies with a UNSC mandate to push Iraq out of occupied Kuwait, thus underlining that the United States was now the successor to the British Empire as guarantor of security in the oil-rich Persian Gulf. George W. Bush’s 2003 war against Iraq, while it lacked the legal framework that the Gulf War enjoyed, was a continuation of that assertion of American dominance on a unilateral basis (not unilateral in the sense that the US had no allies, but unilateral in the sense that none of the allies was indispensable and that the US could do as it pleased).

      In 2011, China and India are in the top ten world economies (by purchasing power parity), and each is a hegemonic military power now. China can help protect Syria, e.g., and India insists on buying Iranian petroleum. Russia is likely to rejoin the top ten by 2015, and it is militarily significant. Moscow is running interference for the Baath regime in Syria in part to protect the Tartus naval base on the Mediterranean, which the Russians lease from Damascus.

      The United States is no longer the hyperpower. It can no longer necessarily act unilaterally by launching a major war of aggression at will. It lacks the resources. And, it has significant challengers in some theaters. The Obama administration was only able to act in Libya because Russia and China had allowed a strong UNSC resolution in favor of intervention to be passed. Had either exercised a veto, the Libya War would have been forestalled. And, even with a UNSC resolution authorizing the use of force, Washington felt the need to lead from behind and let France, Britain and Qatar stay in the forefront, because it feared bad PR if it were perceived to be yet again unilaterally attacking a Muslim country.

      A corollary is that each region of the world is now more independent of the US than it had been. Brazil defied the US on Libya and Latin America is defying the US on relations with Palestine.

      The greatest trend to greater independence of the US can be seen in the Middle East and North Africa. Some regimes that were almost sycophants toward Western capitals have been swept away. Indigenous and nativist political movements, especially those based in political Islam, are doing well. Religious parties came to power in Tunisia and Morocco, forming governments and selecting the prime minister. A similar development will likely occur in Egypt, Libya and Yemen in 2012. All of these governments had been dominated by billionaire politicians and increasingly Neoliberal economic policies. The new cabinets dominated by political Islam are economic populists, but likely will not challenge the US significantly. Neither can they be depended upon, however, to do as they’re told, in the way that Mubarak could have been.

      It is too early to say whether the assertion of people power, in part via the internet, in the Arab world marks a structural, long-term change in the way business is done. What can be said is that the Middle East is emerging as more independent than it had been since the 1970s.

      President Obama gave a speech marking the end of the Iraq War. He should give one marking the end of the “War on Terror.” The US is not actively fighting Muslim troops in Iraq any more. Bin Laden is dead. Whatever is going on in southern Afghanistan will have to work its way out alone.

      Those are the three big changes in 2011. The US is one great power among many, now. Muslim radicalism is running out of steam. And, the Middle East is declaring independence along the lines of Brazil.

      http://www.juancole.com/2011/12/2011-end-of-us-hyperpower-its-war-with-islamdom.html

    • icarusr

      But, but … Frum likes Romney, and Romney keeps saying that Obama is constantly apologising for the US; and Santorum has said that Obama does not have the courage to defend the US, and we know Frum will vote for Santorum if he is the nominee … so whom is one to believe?

  • Graychin

    My rudimentary understanding of how the Constitution works had left me with the impression that the President sets foreign policy – not the Congress.

    Silly me.

    (I sincerely hope that valkayec is correct about the odious detention provisions of that bill having been struck before final passage. If they were not, we will bitterly regret it – someday, a generation or two from now, if not sooner.)

    • valkayec

      I agree about the detention proposal which is why I particularly noted it in the story I read yesterday as well as a couple of weeks ago when Rand Paul raised objections to it and was later satisfied, he said, that those portions of the bill were no longer included.

      • Nanotek

        “My rudimentary understanding of how the Constitution works had left me with the impression that the President sets foreign policy – not the Congress.”

        mixed bag.

        Congress:

        Art 1 Section 8: regulate Commerce with foreign Nations; declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water, define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations

        President:

        Art. II, Section 2: shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States

  • valkayec

    Mr. Frum, please be careful what you wish for. Iran, right now, is full of contradictions and disagreements. It is a country in turmoil at all levels…and we ordinary citizens don’t have any idea of the depth of that turmoil, particularly at the highest governmental levels, or what is being done behind the scenes. It’s very possible Amadi could be pushed out in the next year. He’s no longer the favorite son, so to speak, of the Supreme Leader and the ruling clerics. In addition, the military has grown in power and wealth dramatically and is not controlled by Amadi.

    That being said, the government leadership changes in Greece, Italy and Spain may make a deeper dent in Iranian policy in that these 3 countries were the major importers in Europe of Iranian oil. These new governments are far less friendly to Iran, banning imports of Iranian oil. Iran is starting to feel not just the sanctions but the economic pinch. Amadi, it was reported yesterday, offered to sit down with the UN, and supposedly others in Europe, to discuss its nuclear program. Of course, he’s done so before with no resolution so this offer may be yet another delaying tactic. But I wonder…his relationship with the Supreme Leader is not good. They split on policy issues, with Amadi showing himself to be the more pragmatic of the two even though the Ayatollah is more popular and far more powerful.

    Moreover, the Arab League, perhaps prompted by the growing regional power of Turkey, finally is showing some muscle. If their actions in Syria show results, the League may grow stronger and more unified to the point where they choose to deal with Iran as a unified body. After all, all the countries in the ME will be affected by whatever Iran does.

    President Obama’s concern with banking sanctions have been, and continue to be, two-fold. First, with a still weak US economy, will the sanctions threatened oil prices, driving them up which will harm the economy and stall out any growth. As we’ve seen this last year, any shock to the system threatened and slowed growth. Risk aversion levels are extremely high right now. Second is the question of what harm these sanctions will do to ordinary citizens. Iran has an extremely high poverty and unemployment rate…as well as being a country that is very nationalist. If pushed too hard and hurt too much, the result might be the opposite of what is desired, causing Iranians to rally around the government and seeing the West, particularly the US, as even greater enemies.

    I’ve been listening to Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group. He has some very good insights on the ME of which I tend to agree. I’d recommend paying attention to what he says.

    • gmat

      Thinking of Bremmer’s J-Curve, I wonder if US efforts to isolate Iran serve to make the current regime more stable rather than less.

      Perhaps a US policy which sought to move Iran farther to the right on the openness scale would be more effective in promoting a different regime in Iran. ie, not sanctions, but engagement.

      Kind of a Nixon-Goes-to-China thing.

  • ottovbvs

    “The administration will be strongly tempted to do just that…”

    Probably because it would bring us into a severe collision with several of our major allies around the globe and risk other economic damage directly to the US. I’ll leave Frum to explain why sanctioning Japanese banks is probably not a good idea.

  • dante

    Oh hey look, Santorum has come out and stated he would start a war with Iran….

    I guess he’s trying to recreate John McCain’s “success”?

    • gmat

      He’s nuts on foreign policy. But so are the rest of them, except for Paul.

      But I notice he’s closing in on Romney and Paul in Iowa. Nate Silver says Santorum’s probability of winning there has jumped 15 percentage points in the last 3 days, all at Romney’s expense.

  • geodoc

    Gwynne Dyer pretty well sums it up:

    “We will not build two (nuclear) bombs in the face of (America’s) 20,000,” said Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in response to an International Atomic Energy Agency report this week that accuses Iran of doing just that. He called Yukiya Amano, the head of the IAEA, a U.S. puppet, saying: “This person does not publish a report about America and its allies’ nuclear arsenals.”

    Well, that’s true, actually. Amano will never publish a report about America’s nuclear weapons (only 5,133 of them now, actually). He hasn’t said anything about Israel’s, Britain’s, and France’s weapons of mass destruction either. And his report is largely based on information fed to him by Western intelligence agencies.

    But apart from that, Amano is as impartial and free from U.S. influence as you would expect a career Japanese diplomat to be. Only cynical people will see any resemblance to Colin Powell’s performance at the United Nations in 2003, when the U.S. defense secretary held up a test tube and assured us all that Iraq really was working on germ warfare.

    Iraq was allegedly working on nuclear weapons, too: former president George Bush’s famous “smoking gun,” which also subsequently went missing. And on the basis of this “intelligence” about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction,” the United States and its more gullible allies invaded the country. Hundreds of thousands died, no weapons were found, and nothing was learned. Here we go again.

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The same intelligence agencies are producing the same sort of reports about Iran that we heard eight years ago about Iraq’s nuclear ambitions, and interpreting the information in the same highly prejudiced way.

    Many people in the West realise that they are being hustled into yet another attack on a Middle Eastern country, but they don’t really worry about it too much. After all, it will only be air strikes, and we all know that an air-only war is practically casualty-free for the side with air superiority. Look at Libya, for example.

    But how many citizens of the United States or Britain know that Iran has ten times as many people as Libya? Maybe one in 10, maybe one in 20. How many know that Iran is a partially democratic, technologically proficient state with no history of attacking its neighbours, not a tinpot dictatorship run by a vicious loon? About the same number. How many realise that the war would not end with a few days of air strikes? Practically none.

    The interesting exception to all this is Israel, where people do know those things, and where there is a vigorous debate about whether attacking Iran is a good idea. A lot think it is not, and that also goes for both of Israel’s intelligence agencies, Mossad and Shin Bet. Meir Dagan, the recently retired head of Mossad, said last January that an attack on Iran was “the stupidest idea” he had ever heard.

    So Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defence minister Ehud Barak, who do both want to attack Iran (or rather, have the United States do it for them), have gone public. If the Western powers don’t act at once, they warn, then Iran will get nuclear weapons and Armageddon will be just around the corner.

    There are two things wrong with this proposition. One is the evidence. If you believe it all, it shows that Iran wants the knowledge and equipment that would let it build a nuclear weapon very quickly if necessary: an Israeli nuclear threat, a military coup in nuclear-armed Pakistan that brings young Shia-hating officers to power, whatever.

    The evidence does not show that Iran is actually building a nuclear weapon now, or has any present intention of doing so. And having the knowledge and equipment that would let you do so fast in an emergency is entirely legal under IAEA rules.

    The other problem with the accusations against Iran is the logic behind them. Building a nuclear weapon now would be extremely costly for Iran in terms of economic sanctions, global diplomatic isolation and the like if it became known. But it would be completely pointless from a deterrence point of view if it remained secret.

    Deterrence is the only logical reason that Iran would ever want nuclear weapons, since it would be suicidal for it to attack anybody with them. As Mahmoud Ahmadnejadi pointed out (above), it would have at the most a few nuclear warheads. The United States has thousands of them, Israel has hundreds of them, and even Pakistan has dozens.

    If Iran’s leaders were completely logical in their thinking, they wouldn’t waste a minute thinking about nuclear deterrence. They’d just rely on the fact that their military can completely shut the Gulf to oil traffic and bring the global economy to its knees if anybody attacks them. However, they are still a lot more rational than their Western counterparts— or at least than their Western counterparts can afford to seem in public.

    You heard about that recent exchange between French president Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. president Barack Obama that went out on an open microphone? Sarko said “I can’t stand (Netanyahu) any more. He’s a liar.” And Obama replied: “You’re sick of him? I have to deal with him every day.” What about? One gets you 10 that it’s about bombing Iran.

    • armstp

      Geo,

      Nice article. Gwynne Dyer always tells it the way it is.

      It is really all about Israel. Israel has been very effective at using its political clout in the U.S. to get the U.S. and its allies to fight its enemies and wars. That is as clear as day. Thanks to guys like Frum, Israel has basically run our foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly the Republicans’ Middle East foreign policy.

    • anniemargret

      +1^

  • Reflection Ephemeral

    On Nov. 16, David Frum wrote that he wouldn’t, in hindsight, have voted to invade Iraq, explaining, “The world is a better place without Saddam, but as with everything, the question is one of costs and benefits. The costs to the U.S. were too high, the benefits to the U.S. too few.”

    We need to see that mentality before invading this time around, David.

    We were putting a thumb on the scale in the debates last time around (UAVs, aluminum tubes, etc.). Let’s be damn sure we know what Iran is doing, and what costs and benefits are likely from an attack or invasion. There’s a lot of work to do to get to the statement that sanctions– these, or any others– are necessary to prevent a nuclearized Iran. And there’s a lot of work to do to get from there to “we should invade to prevent it.”

    As Matt Eckel put it,

    An Iran with the bomb would be m0re or less insulated from regime change via conventional military invasion, since this is the one scenario in which the regime in Tehran could credibly threaten to unleash its arsenal. This would, I suppose, reduce American strategic flexibility. A bit. To my mind, though, this is simply a cost of defining one’s national interests on a global scale. At a certain point, American leaders need to decide what interests are worth aggressively defending, and then acknowledge that some level of running conflict beyond those red lines is inevitable. It’s not like Iranian conventional capabilities are sufficient to overwhelm American and allied forces in the Persian Gulf, or anyplace else in the region. It’s this inability to brook any challenge to American dominance anywhere that got the U.S. mired in Vietnam. It’s this same basic mentality that got the British into costly and stupid wars in Afghanistan during the 19th Century (the Russians are someplace out there and if we don’t lock down the Hindu Kush they might somehow threaten India someday!). … Imagining, though, that the U.S. requires absolute and unchallenged dominance of the entire Middle East, and that it’s worth starting a potentially catastrophic war in order to prevent the eventual possibility that such dominance might become more strategically expensive, is wrongheaded. If Americans are unwilling to acknowledge that some hostile relationships require management rather than decisive transformative action, they have no business trying to run a global empire.

    http://fpwatch.com/?p=2138

  • nister

    An Iranian nuke rolls conventional warfare threats back up to Israel’s front door. Operation Cast Lead would never have happened if Israel was in nuclear peril.

    Western media would have us believe that “mad mullahs” lust for a nuke..as soon as they have one, they use it on Israel. If they are that suicidal, why wait for a nuke? They could never tip their hand by testing it..and they certainly have the conventional weaponry to devastate Israel should they throw everything in at once.

  • SteveThompson

    The implementation of sanctions has worked very well….for China. China has taken an increasingly heavy role in oil and gas infrastructure, resulting in a complicating factor over future hostilities as shown here:

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/2011/12/iran-oil-giant.html

    Considering that Iran has the third largest oil reserves among the 12 OPEC nations and the world’s second largest natural gas reserves, conflict over control of these resources is quite likely in the future.

  • Ex Cathedra

    Why do some of my keys for the var*o*s letters of the alpha*et not work on th* s*te, an only not on th*s *te?

    a * c d e f g h * j k l m n o p q r s t * v w x y z.

    Ran a v*r*s scan on my Mac, came *p clean.

    Hmmm…..

    • Traveler

      Do you have a wireless keyboard? Check your batteries. Same thing happened to me.

    • sweatyb

      it’s a bug in Frum Forum’s commenting code. Basically it seems to get hung up on the keys that do formatting. I – for italics. B – for bold. U – for underline. etc.

      you can just reload the page and it should be fixed. at least in firefox.