Ray Takeyh wants Congress to impose more sanctions on Iran to penalize it for its domestic abuses, and then at the end admits that it probably will have little or no effect:

It is entirely possible that even a more robust human rights strategy will yield little [bold mine-DL] from a regime that relies on repression to prolong its rule. However, at the very least, such measures would place America on the right side of history.

This is remarkably unpersuasive. If Congress did what Takeyh wants and these measures became law, it would almost certainly increase tensions with Iran. It would strengthen hard-liners inside the Iranian government, and they will cite these measures as proof of Washington’s unrelenting hostility. That can hardly benefit dissidents and prisoners inside Iran. It would also presumably make it even more difficult to get Iran’s government to free wrongfully detained Americans now and in the future. If this “more robust” policy has an effect, it seems much more likely that it will be harmful to the very people it is meant to help.

Applying a new set of punitive sanctions at the same time that other punitive sanctions are being lifted as part of the nuclear deal potentially jeopardizes the continued implementation of the agreement. Even if it doesn’t, it would likely prove to most Iranians that the U.S. will keep looking for reasons to slap significant sanctions on Iran, and that will help to make another generation of Iranians distrust and resent the U.S. Using secondary sanctions to discourage foreign companies from doing business in Iran runs into the same problem as ever: it forces other states to choose between pursuing their own economic interests and yielding to U.S. policy. That isn’t going to be well-received in other capitals, including quite a few allied ones that are now ready to get back to doing business with Iran.

In return for all this, the “more robust” strategy would not improve political conditions inside Iran, nor would it ameliorate the treatment of dissidents and prisoners. All that it would do is put the U.S. on the “right side of history,” which is another way of saying that the main reason to do this is so that we will feel better because we “did something.”

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