Bryan Prior acknowledges that sanctions on Iran aren’t compelling the regime to change its position on its nuclear program, but claims that they are nonetheless “working” in other ways:

Thus, as the next round of talks in Kazakhstan comes and goes, U.S. policy makers should remain patient and place confidence in the other ways in which sanctions are working—namely, in thwarting Iran’s goal of regional hegemony while demonstrating to the world the costs of attempting to cross the nuclear threshold.

This doesn’t make much sense. If the “central goal” of imposing a cruel sanctions regime on Iran is to compel a change in regime behavior specifically on the nuclear issue, and they show no signs of doing that, why should the U.S. continue a failing policy on the grounds that it might have some incidental advantages? Prior’s argument is a good example of how sanctions supporters can change the criteria used for judging the merits of the policy they support. Sanctions almost never succeed in changing regime behavior, they aren’t successful in this case, and so now apparently it’s important to cook up some other reason to keep them in place.

Prior reviews the economic damage that sanctions are doing to the country, which is certainly happening, and then says this:

If the United States and its partner nations accept more modest policy objectives, then they already are succeeding—even if Iran ultimately becomes a nuclear power [bold mine-DL].

Of course, by any reasonable standard this would mean that sanctions on Iran had completely failed to achieve their ostensible “central goal,” and all of the economic dislocation and suffering inflicted on the civilian population would have been mostly in vain. Prior’s argument captures very well why sanctions once imposed are so difficult to remove. Even if they are completely useless in achieving their supposed original goal, new reasons to keep them in place can be devised without any difficulty. In the end, sanctions are imposed simply as punishment, and in the case of an authoritarian regime such as Iran’s there is always something for which the U.S. might claim to be punishing them.