Rep. Allen West Makes The Case Against Iran Sanctions

November 11, 2011 3:18 pm ET — Walid Zafar

Rep. Allen

In a recent interview with, Rep. Allen West (R-FL) argues that sanctions against Iran are doomed to fail because such measures only work "when you have people who care about the standard of living of their people." Iran, he explained, doesn't "care about that standard of living." Perhaps unknowingly, West makes the same point that critics of the sanctions regime have been raising for more than a decade now. The sort of broad sanctions that Congress has passed, and which it is looking to strengthen, mainly harm ordinary Iranians (and Iranian Americans) and are unlikely to significantly change the behavior of hardliners who determine the country's foreign and military policy.

As Tony Karon writes in Time today, "Neither the four sets of U.N. sanctions over the past five years or the additional unilateral measures adopted by the U.S. and its allies; nor the assassination of scientists, sabotage of facilities and Stuxnet computer warm; nor the threat of military action by the U.S. or Israel have halted Iran's progress, even if they may have slowed it, somewhat." It's clear that some new sort of approach must be taken.

West's correct diagnosis comes with a very bitter pill. The fact that sanctions haven't worked supports the argument, West claims, that we must confront Iran militarily. "I think we should strike when we have the right kind of conditions," he says.

A new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency notes that Iran has made advances in its program, but it does not conclude that Iranian leaders have made the decision to actually develop the bomb. West's statement that the report says Iran is "getting close to having a militarized nuclear device" is not even remotely accurate. "A nuclear-armed Iran," three experts with the Arms Control Association wrote this week following publication of the IAEA report, "is still not imminent nor is it inevitable."

The trio notes:

Talk of military strikes against Iranian nuclear and military targets is counterproductive. Military strikes by the United States and/or Israel would only achieve a temporary delay in Iran's nuclear activities, convince Iran's leadership to openly pursue nuclear weapons, rally domestic support behind a corrupt regime, and would result in costly long-term consequences for U.S. and regional security and the U.S. and global economy.

The most important point in this analysis was underscored by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta yesterday. Asked to comment on the assessment that bombing Iran's nuclear facilities would "at most delay that program or derail it up to two or three years at most," Panetta answered, "I see no change in the assessments."

Panetta also corrected a reporter who insinuated that the IAEA report contradicted the controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which, much to the consternation the hawks, found that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

PANETTA: Now, you know, look, first of all, with regards to the IAEA report, that was perfectly in line with the intelligence assessments, certainly that I've seen, with regards to Iran.  We've always made the point that they continue to try to develop a threshold capability with regards to their nuclear capacity. But at the same time, there continue to be divisions within Iran as to whether or not to actually build a bomb itself.  So in many ways, the IAEA report pretty much indicates that they continue work on that capability, and that's pretty much reflected in our intelligence assessment.

West and many other lawmakers and commentators are reacting more to the hype and less to the substance of the IAEA report, which does not make the claim, despite the bluster, that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon or even that it is pursuing one. The most surefire way to get Iran to develop the bomb, however, is to launch the sort of preemptive attack that West is calling for.

Allen West is right. Sanctions aren't changing the behavior of the Iranian government and are hurting ordinary people. The solution, however, isn't war. It's the sort of diplomacy that we pursued during even the most frightening days of the Cold War.