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Posted by on Feb 11, 2010 in At TMV, Breaking News, International, Media, Politics, War | 37 comments

Sanctions, Not Bombs, Will Bankrupt Iran

Neo-cons as Bill Kristol and new adoptee Sarah Palin are suggesting the U.S. go to war against Iran if that nation continues its path to develop nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, a more pragmatic President Obama is seeking tougher sanctions against the Islamic regime on the same issue.

Palin’s approach is strictly political. She said an Obama get-tough stand on Iran could be a game-changer in the 2012 presidential election campaign. That was seeing it through the prism of her eyes when asked about a presidential run in 2012 last Sunday from Fox’s Chis Wallace.

Kristol, as his fellow neo cons who have never been in a military battle, sees war as an inevitable solution. Obama sees sanctions as buying time.

They’re all wrong on the central issue.

Iran will develop nuclear capabilities. Whether they develop nuclear warheads is only a guess.

In a nationally televised address in Tehran’s Freedom Square, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaimed today that Iran has produced its first batch of uranium enriched to a higher level, reiterating that Iran is now a “nuclear state.”

Ahmandinejad is full of crap. The enrichment program he was referring to started only two days ago.

And, in the past two years, technical problems using 1970 procedures has curtailed uranium enrichment to a point in which Israel is less vocal in its disguised voice to bomb Iran’s nuclear plants.

The Washington Post said it obtained a copy from David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) that offers a new assessment.

U.N. reports over the last year have shown a drop in production at Iran’s main uranium enrichment plant, near the city of Natanz. Now a new assessment, based on three years of internal data from U.N. nuclear inspections, suggests that Iran’s mechanical woes are deeper than previously known. At least through the end of 2009, the Natanz plant appears to have performed so poorly that sabotage cannot be ruled out as an explanation.

The ISIS study shows more than half of the Natanz plant’s 8,700 uranium-enriching machines, called centrifugues, were idle at the end of 2009 and production was about half of what was expected by Iranian scientists.

A separate, forthcoming analysis by the Federation of American Scientists also describes Iran’s flagging performance and suggests that continued failures may increase Iran’s appetite for a deal with the West. Ivan Oelrich, vice president of the federation’s Strategic Security Program, said Iranian leaders appear to have raced into large-scale uranium production for political reasons.

“They are really struggling to reproduce what is literally half-century-old European technology and doing a really bad job of it,” Oelrich said.

What is not known is the number of additional plants other than Natanz.

Analysts warned that Iran remains capable of making enough enriched uranium for a small arsenal of nuclear weapons, if it decides to do so. Iran has announced plans to build 10 new uranium plants, and on Monday the government said it would begin increasing the enrichment level of some of its uranium, from a current maximum of 3.5 percent to 20 percent. Enrichment of 90 percent is considered weapons-grade.

In The New York Times Opinionator column today, Robert Wright takes a shot at Palin and the Kristols for failing to understand that most Iranians want nuclear power as a source of pride and that even a miracle of opposition forces overthrowing the regime would not change the nuclear development issue.

Here the opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has been at least as hard line as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The reason is that the Iranian people — reformers and conservatives alike — feel pretty strongly about the nuclear issue. The sooner we get clear on why, the better our hopes of resolving this mess.

Wright cites analysis by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) of several opinion polls conducted in Iran over the past year.

Perhaps the best news in the PIPA report is that the Iranian public isn’t committed to getting the bomb. Given the choice between developing 1) nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, 2) nuclear energy only or 3) no nuclear technology, 55% of Iranians (and 57% of Mousavi supporters) chose door number two, while only 38% (and 37%) wanted the bomb.

But note that almost no one chose door number three. So if your goal is to get Iran to give up its nuclear program altogether, I recommend finding another goal.

One has to take Obama’s sanctions on good faith. It is unlikely to receive support from China and Russia in the Security Council.

This week the Obama administration froze assets of four companies that Treasury said are owned or controlled by, or act on behalf of, a major contractor known as Khatam al-Anbiya, which has channeled billions of dollars a year to the Revolutionary Guard from its activities in oil, construction, transportation and other industries. The action also targets Guard Gen. Rostam Qasemi, who is the commander of Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters.

The Guard has received at least $6 billion worth of government contracts in two years, according to state-run media, but the total is likely much higher because many contracts are not disclosed. Working through its private-sector arm, the group operates Tehran’s international airport, manages Iran’s weapons manufacturing business and is involved in other industries.

Here’s what Kristol wrote today in a column lambasting Vice President Joe Biden:

Leave aside whether it make sense to worry more about other countries getting nuclear weapons in response to Iran than about the more immediate problem of the Iranian regime acquiring nuclear weapons’ capability. Leave aside also that Biden — following in his boss’s footsteps — couldn’t be bothered to express anything in the way of solidarity with the demonstrators who would be taking to the streets of Iran the next day.

What’s striking is this: a) Even Biden seems to realize that having the current Iranian regime go nuclear would be a problem that could, unfortunately, outweigh all other successes in the Middle East, such as Iraq; b) even Biden doesn’t bother to pretend that the year the Obama administration spent on “engagement” with Iran produced anything worthwhile; and c) even Biden doesn’t bother to claim that the effects of a nuclear Iran can be “contained” by extending deterrence to other nations in the Middle East, or other favorite nostrums of some in the foreign policy community.

So what is the Obama administration going to do about the Iranian regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons?

His answer:

In fact, I’d say military action is likely at some point over the next couple of years if there’s not regime change in Iran.

Saber-rattling, regime change and sanctions. None has gotten us very far in Iran where both the regime and its 70 million people are on a different page than the Western world on the issues of nukes.

I think Obama’s approach is best. Apply economic sanctions by cutting off the money supply to the country’s nuclear program. It follows a similar plan that bankrupt the Soviet Union.