Think Twice Before Sanctioning Iran

If you want to shape Iran’s behavior, you have to think like its leaders.

Sometimes it seems we take action in foreign policy without fully understanding the consequences. From the Iraq War, to arming Syrian rebels, this has been shown over and over again.

Recently, the U.S. Senate considered new sanctions against Iran regarding ballistic missiles and the funding of terrorism. These are important matters, and we should discuss them. Iran is certainly part of this problem. But we should also discuss the larger picture. We are currently in the middle of an agreement regarding nuclear power and proliferation with Iran that, so far, both sides say has been kept. The issues in the sanctions bill are not subject to that agreement. So unilateral action outside the current agreement, even for legitimate purposes, must be carefully weighed. What does this action do to the prospects of ensuring compliance with the agreement?

It has been said in the debate so far that we do not care what Tehran thinks, or if they think this is an abrogation of the nuclear agreement. Well, let’s consider that statement. If we do not care what they think, why are we trying to influence their behavior? What are sanctions if not a hope to change their way of thinking?

If they react in one way by saying, “We are going to get out of the nuclear agreement,” that would be a pretty important and dramatic step. I am not saying they will. They might, though, and we ought to have at least thought through that scenario and understand that, while we will not condone or acquiesce to their opinion, we do care about it because that is what we are trying to change. We are trying to change their attitude toward continued expansion of their ballistic missile program.

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