If the West is going to pursue sanctions then those sanctions should be strong enough to actually compel behavior. Otherwise, war proponents will simply reject them entirely and instead offer the choice of containment or war (and guess which option they think will be more palatable for the American public).

I can appreciate Obama’s incrementalism in dealing with China, but he’s handing his political rivals their 2010 (and perhaps even 2012) message on Iran. ~Kevin Sullivan

This is why I remain firmly opposed to new sanctions on Iran, and it is why I think it has always been a mistake for the administration to focus its diplomatic efforts on the implementation of a new sanctions regime. As Kevin correctly notes, war proponents will find whatever sanctions regime the administration cobbles together to be inadequate and call for military action, because they are proponents of war with Iran. This would have been their response even if the administration had somehow managed to win over other major and rising powers to support “crippling” sanctions. Whatever deal the administration made to get other states on board for any round of sanctions, it would be too much of a compromise for these hawks to accept.

This is why the administration should never have gone down the path of pursuing new sanctions: the administration has committed itself to a policy mechanism that will not yield the results it wants. There is no sanctions regime short of embargoes that would be seen as acts of war that could conceivably compel Iran to act as Washington wishes, and an embargo could easily lead to war anyway. The pursuit of sanctions will not only open the door to a hawkish Republican political challenge, which is forthcoming no matter what Obama does, but which will also contribute to the constant pressure for escalation against Iran regardless of who occupies the Oval Office after Obama’s first term ends. We have heard it all before: sanctions have been tried and they failed, and now we have no choice but to attack to prevent a “growing and gathering” threat, etc.

Of course, there is always the choice of accepting what cannot be prevented, but the administration is horrifed by the thought of being the ones in charge when Iran acquires a nuclear weapon (even though Iran is probably far away from acquiring one) and fears the political attacks that will follow if it “fails” to prevent the inevitable. All of these troubles stem from the original mistake of making the elimination or severe limitation of Iran’s nuclear program the objective of U.S. Iran policy, and instead of correcting this error upon entering office Obama redoubled our pursuit of this objective. It may be that the administration is now recognizing the degree of international indifference to the Iranian “threat” and coming to understand the impracticality and risks of imposing “crippling” sanctions. Now that it has come this far, it has trapped itself in a position in which it will not compel any change in Iranian behavior, and it will be mocked at home for its “weak appeasement” while simultaneously destroying whatever chance there was of some sustained engagement.