Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Are Iran Sanctions a “March to War?”

by Elliott Abrams
November 13, 2013


White House spokesman Jay Carney yesterday called any effort to adopt additional sanctions against Iran “a march to war.”  Here, from The Cable, is the quote:

It is important to understand that if pursuing a resolution diplomatically is disallowed or ruled out, what options, then, do we and our allies have to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon? The American people do not want a march to war.

This escalation of rhetoric is irresponsible and near hysterical (to borrow a word from a New York Times editorial, which applied it to Israeli prime minister Netanyahu yesterday).

Additional sanctions are, in my view and that of a wide range of Democrats and Republicans, a good idea. Sanctions brought Iran to the table, a conclusion with which the Obama administration appears to agree. Additional sanctions are not therefore obviously a terrible idea, a bad policy, or a sure road to ending negotiations. Iran has in the past stretched out negotiations, as Rouhani himself has claimed, in order to gain time to build its nuclear weapons program. Additional sanctions would make that tactic costly for Iran, and by causing more economic damage give Iran an even greater incentive to show the flexibility needed to reach a deal.

The administration has an argument, one it makes poorly, that additional sanctions imposed now would lead to the doom of all negotiating efforts and cause Iran to walk away from the table. That may be true  but it is illogical and requires some argumentation. What Carney did yesterday is closer to slander than to argumentation: that those who seek additional sanctions–for example, New Jersey Democratic senator Robert Menendez–are leading to war and presumably seek that goal.

I hope the effect of this comment by the White House is to stiffen the spines of those in Congress who are calling for more sanctions. And to lead the White House to change its rhetoric, and henceforth engage in serious debate.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Scott

    Mr. Abrams,

    I am a frequent visitor to your blog but must admit I know very little about foreign policy. I am an American who is very concerned about the Iranian threat to Israel. Is it naive to think the US could give Iran a simple choice: Dismantle all enrichment capabilities or the US will destroy them? If it is naive, can you explain why? If it not naive, why isn’t the US pursuing this approach?



  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    I believe the President would say he is doing what you describe: he has said he would prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon, using all options (including military), unless a deal is reached. The problem is that he has never been as blunt as you suggest, and that the Iranians do not believe there is really a military threat. Nor by the way do Israelis and Arabs believe it; they like the Iranians believe the President would rather sign a bad deal than use force, and they cite his unwillingness to pull the trigger in Syria as evidence.
    Where the President would also disagree, I think, is that he would allow them a small enrichment capability. The Arabs and Israelis would stick with the terms of the UN and IAEA resolutions: no enrichment.
    So your question is not naive. In my view it would have led to a more successful policy than the one we have now. Only tough sanctions and a credible military threat will likely lead to an acceptable negotiated agreement that stops their progress to having as nuclear weapon.

  • Posted by Scott

    Mr. Abrams,

    Thank you for your reply.



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