In hailing the new START treaty signing with Dmitri Medvedev, Obama said that the treaty will help Russia get tougher with the Iranians. Assuming that the Russians start getting tougher with sanctions, how exactly does Obama see that helping in terms of stopping Iran from pursuing nuclear-weapon technology? Obama thinks it will change their “cost benefit analyses” and convince them that it will simply cost too much in international relations:
President Barack Obama said in an interview aired on Friday that there is no guarantee sanctions will change Iran’s behavior but he believes steady international pressure could alter Tehran’s nuclear calculations over time.
“If the question is, do we have a guarantee as to the sanctions we are able to institute at this stage are automatically going to change Iranian behavior, of course we don’t,” Obama told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“The history of the Iranian regime, like the North Korean regime is that you know, you apply international pressure on these countries, sometimes they choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.”
True, which is why we do reserve our option to act in pre-emptive defense when nations violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran has done for years and continues to do now. But again, why would increased Russian pressure change the minds of the Iranian mullahs pursuing nukes?
“I think it’s an enormous shift and a signal that Russia, like the United States, recognizes that unless we can get all countries to start abiding by certain rules of the road, and right now, our biggest concerns are obviously Iran and North Korea,” the U.S. president said.
“If we are consistent and steady in applying international pressure … over time, Iran, which is not a stupid regime, which is very attentive and watching what’s happening in the international community, will start making a different set of cost-benefit analyses about whether or not pursuing nuclear weapons makes sense for them,” he said.
First, Russia has not been uncooperative simply because we haven’t signed a new START treaty. They do a lot of business with Iran, including arms sales as well as equipment for the very plants Iran has built to pursue those weapons. Medvedev and Vladimir Putin are not likely to cut off business ties with Iran, START or no START. Bush tried cozying up to Putin during most of his term and also wound up with only tepid support for economic sanctions against Iran.
Let’s also remember that Obama’s reversal on missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic were supposed to unlock this same cooperation from Russia. Did that work? Not exactly; shortly afterward, Medvedev publicly sounded a skeptical note about increased sanctions, which have languished since then. Like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football, Obama’s lined up yet another kick.
But let’s focus on the “cost-benefit analyses” Obama presumes Tehran to be making. That assumes a rational state of mind focused on economic values. Nothing the Tehran regime has done should force us to presume that mindset among those in power. Instead, their rationale seems to be based on three core principles. First, nuclear weapons (mostly) preclude attack from enemies. Second, it gives Iran a first-strike method of destroying Israel without conducting a conventional war. Third, even if the destruction of Israel does lead to a regional conflagration, their religious belief informs them that their messiah, the Twlefth Imam of Shi’ite apocalypse, will come forth to allow them to rule the world.
Given that, exactly how does having the Russians increase their support on economic sanctions from tepid to somewhat warm impact those cost-benefit analyses? That won’t have any impact on the regime. The best we can hope is that a tightening economic noose will encourage a revolt from within, but Obama let the best opportunity for that to pass last summer while offering his “open hand” to the regime that oppressed the democratization movement. And even then, a really tough set of sanctions mean nothing unless China joins it, and the rest of the world adheres to it. As the Oil-for-Food scandal showed, the likelihood of all of those conditions occurring approaches zero.
The truth is that we’re dealing with the non-rational, not the rational or irrational, with the mullahcracy of Iran. Cost-benefit analyses have little to do with it.