Does Sanction Diplomacy Work?
Iran's government has finally decided to impose an overdue fuel rationing to prepare for the harmful consequences of the two resolutions adopted by the UN against Iran, in an effort to halt its uranium enrichment program. Turning the nuclear issue into a matter of national pride, the regime government has used the entire issue to unify its people behind the flag, emphasizing that adopting tens of such resolutions will have no effect on its nuclear program.
This was an alarming week for hardliners in Tehran: although there had been discussions regarding rationing of oil in the past few weeks, suddenly on Wednesday the government announced that rationing would go into effect at midnight. Pandemonium ensued. Hundreds of cars lined up at gas stations, people's frustration and anger multiplied, and eventually, dozens of gas stations and a few cars were set on fire, as people hurled abuses at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had promised to bring "oil revenues to the people's tables." The rationing has now been postponed, police Special Forces are guarding the pumps, and the situation is under control. If there is one thing this government is good at, it is controlling people!
For a long time, Iranian officials have been talking about removing oil subsides. However, the country is addicted to cheap and plentiful oil, and none of the previous governments have dared normalize oil prices in fear of people's wrath. The motivation for Ahmadinejad's audacious government to do so now, is the increasing concern over the possibility of UN sanctions restricting oil exports and petrol imports. Needless to say, that Iran imports almost 40 percent of its daily petrol usage from abroad, and more than 70 percent of the country's economy is dependent on oil revenues.
These sanctions are theoretically aimed against the hardliner government's defiance, and intended to force them to cooperate completely with the IAEA. But similar to countries under sanctions, Ahmadinejad's government has decided to shift the pressure on to his people. While the UNSC permanent members think that they can bring the hardliners in Tehran to their knees by adopting serial sanction resolutions, Iranian people are the only victims of these economical pressures.
The Islamic government in Iran has been living under sanction, military threat and political pressure since 1979, and is no stranger to external "pressure". Unfortunately, economic sanctions have not proven to be effective against most countries--a prime example being Iraq before the 2003 invasion. The UN sanctions on Iraq since 1990 only weakened the Iraqi people, destroyed the civil society infrastructure, and gave Saddam Hussein more reason to repress his people by using security related issues as the first priority of the regime.
At a time when factions of the Bush administration are seeking to pursue a diplomatic path toward Iran, there are other hardliner elements in Washington who think that putting pressure on Iran's government will force the people to protest against them, and finally overthrow the Islamic Republic.
Given the huge mess in Iraq and Afghanistan today, why would anybody want to overthrow another government? During the last four years, the Iranian government has extensively portrayed the bloody situation in these countries for its people, to show them how the negative results of foreign interference, weak government, and lack of security. I had heard about a US foreign policy stating that "if a policy doesn't work somewhere, try it somewhere else." It appears this policy is now in full affect--a policy, which in my humble opinion, will only lead to confrontation and bloodshed now matter how you look at it.
Destabilizing Iran will only turn the region into mayhem, ideal for increased world terrorism and violence harmful to the rest of the world. To change "the behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran" as Rice put it, the United Sates should commence discussions with them directly, without any preconditions. The letter that was sent by Iranians in 2003 inviting US into talks would have been a great first step. Ultimately, engagement with Iran, will benefit not only both countries involved, but encourage democracy in the Middle East.