President Donald Trump on Monday announced he’s slapping Iran with new “hard-hitting” sanctions, which experts warn are unlikely to achieve the administration’s stated goals while the specter of armed conflict is still on the horizon.
The sanctions came just a few days after Trump abruptly halted a military strike against Iran after it shot down a US Navy drone, and a little less than two weeks after oil tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman that Washington has blamed on Tehran.
Among others, the new sanctions target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Today’s actions follow a series of aggressive behaviors by the Iranian regime in recent weeks, including shooting down of US drones,” Trump said from the Oval Office on Monday morning. “The supreme leader of Iran is one who ultimately is responsible of the hostile conduct of the regime. He’s respected within his country. His office oversees the regime’s most brutal instruments including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”
Trump has said his primary goal in all of this is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and end its aggressive activities in the Middle East. Though some experts question the logic of his overall strategy.
‘The latest sanctions are more bark than bite’
“The latest sanctions are more bark than bite; they don’t change the economic calculations for the Iranian regime,” Ian Bremmer, the founder and president of Eurasia Group, told INSIDER.
Bremmer said Trump’s approach is not about regime change, but bringing the Iranians “to the table.”
For Trump’s strategy to work, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo must succeed in building a coalition beyond Israel and the Gulf States, Bremmer said, and he’s looking to use “the combination of US pressure and Iranian misbehavior” to accomplish this and get “America’s allies back into coordination.”
If the Trump administration is successful in building a “multilateral” coalition, then it’s “much more likely the Iranians end up forced to make confessions,” according to Bremmer.
The US coalition against Iran has more of a chance of working if allies like France, Germany, and the UK embrace the Trump administrations maximum pressure strategy — and more stringent sanctions that further cripple Iran’s economy. That’s unlikely, however, because these key US allies broke with Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
Read more:The US and Iran are still on a military collision course, despite Trump’s calling off airstrikes last minute
“The strategy might work. But it’s high risk, high reward [that] could also lead to mutual escalation that brings military conflict,” Bremmer added “Trump is trying to avoid that outcome, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.”
Aaron David Miller, a distinguished scholar at the Wilson Center and former adviser to the State Department, in a tweet responding to the new sanctions said, “When was last time sanctions alone changed a nation’s conception of its core political/security interests and forced it to capitulate?”
Miller went on to say the “assumption that squeezing Iran will force that outcome” at the negotiation table “is a march of folly that can lead to war.”
‘Sanctions aren’t a strategy’
Meanwhile, former Obama administration officials criticized Trump for saying he wants to prevent a nuclear Iran, after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal — formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)— a landmark pact designed to prevent that from happening.
Iran last week announced it would violate the JCPOA and ramp up its enrichment of low-grade uranium while increasing its stockpile, a move that came after the UN’s nuclear watchdog repeatedly said Tehran remained in compliance with the deal — even after Trump withdrew the US from it.
Along these lines, Ned Price, a former National Security Council spokesman under the Obama administration, slammed Trump’s approach to the Iran crisis. He also suggested the true aim of some of Trump’s more hawkish advisers is to pressure the Iranian’s hard enough that it leads to regime change.
“Sanctions aren’t a strategy, and neither are they an end goal. They’re a means to advance a strategy towards an end,” Price tweeted on Monday. “The problem with the administration’s approach is that the hardliners’ objective is regime change, not preventing an Iranian nuke. The JCPOA already did that.”
‘It’s very interesting timing’ ahead of the G20 Summit in Japan
Rockford Weitz, professor and director of the Maritime Studies Program at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, told INSIDER the new sanctions aren’t surprising and just a continuation of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign.
“I think it will only continue to push the Iranians in a corner where they respond in a way to try to change the status quo,” Weitz added.
Weitz will be looking to the upcoming G20 Summit for signs on what happens next, which takes place in Osaka, Japan at the end of the month.
“It’s very interesting timing,” Weitz said of the summit. “By adding additional sanctions Trump gives himself a little bit more wiggle room that he could step back the most recent round of sanctions but keep the previous ones if he wants to give a concession to some of his allies that are worried about the oil flows.”
In short, the sanctions could give Trump some diplomatic leverage in the coming weeks.
Read more:Trump made the right call by not pulling the trigger on Iran after it shot down a US drone, former officials say
One of the tankers attacked in the recent Gulf of Oman incident was Japanese-owned, and Japan receives roughly 80% of its oil from the Middle East.
Iran has denied responsibility for the tanker attacks, but the US government and many experts aren’t buying it.
If there are more attacks on tankers in the region, it could make US allies like Japan nervous and further complicate the already tense state of affairs. The Gulf of Oman connects with the Persian Gulf via the Straight of Hormuz, a narrow waterway vital to the world’s oil supply. Any disruptions in the area can cause turmoil to global markets.
With that said, Trump on Monday morning also signaled he’s not particularly concerned about this, and called on countries to protect “their own ships” on what he said has “always been a dangerous journey.”
Meanwhile, Iranian state news has decried Trump’s sanctions as a sign of “America’s desperation” as the country’s top diplomat, Javad Zarif, took to Twitter and blasted the president’s advisers and said it’s “clear” they “despise diplomacy” and “thirst for war.”