When are sanctions not sanctions?
When enforcement is an option, I suppose. Tell me how brilliant this is:
The Obama administration is pressing Congress to provide an exemption from Iran sanctions to companies based in “cooperating countries,” a move that likely would exempt Chinese and Russian concerns from penalties meant to discourage investment in Iran.
The “cooperating countries” language that the White House is pressing would allow the executive branch to designate countries as cooperating with the overall strategy to pressure Iran economically.
According to three congressional staffers familiar with the White House proposal, once a country is on that list, the administration wouldn’t even have to identify companies from that country as selling gasoline or aiding Iran’s refinement industry.
Even if, as current law allows, the administration can waive the penalties on named companies for various reasons, the “cooperating countries” language would deprive the sanctions of their “name-and-shame” power, the staffers said.
The bill in committee now doesn’t have this provision. Essentially what this amounts to is the administration saying “if you’ll sign on to the sanctions (against the importation of gasoline), we won’t enforce them” to “cooperating countries”. Pure symbolism over substance.
“We’re pushing for a ‘cooperating-countries’ exemption,” the White House official said. “It is not targeted to any country in particular, but would be based on objective criteria and made in full consultation with the Congress.”
Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, however, said the exemption “is aimed at China and Russia specifically.”
“The administration wants to give a pass to countries for merely supporting a watered-down, almost do-nothing U.N. resolution,” she said.
This isn’t coherent foreign policy – this is pure politics mostly designed for domestic consumption. This is about the ability to claim to have made progress against Iran by rallying the rest of the world to our side and imposing “tough new sanctions” via the UN when the intent is to never enforce them.
Of course Iran hasn’t been idle either. They’re not doing “in-kind” bartering with regional neighbors which circumvents any sanction regime. Swap oil for refined petroleum products and they’re not liable to such sanctions. And of course Hugo Chavez and others in the socialist South American cabal have also said they’d ignore such sanctions anyway.
Last, but certainly not least, a gasoline sanction hits those that can’t afford it the most the hardest in Iran. The regime? It will always have plenty of gasoline. The poor Iranian trying to feed his family – not so much.
Instead of playing these sorts of games, which are clearly doomed to failure (or irrelevance), maybe it’s time to reconsider putting back on the table some of the options the administration unilaterally took off the table last year.