Stanley, a couple of quick points. Economic sanctions are a bad idea to the extent the target regime serves its own interests at the expense of its people’s. And if those sanctions target oil (the most meaningful) we must take into account that Europe and especially China are far more vulnerable to constrictions in the world oil supply than is the United States. It is unreasonable to put pressure on allies and partners to go along with a policy that serves our interests more than theirs (as they perceive them) when they have to bear a greater cost than we do.
But in the case of Iran, all this pales in comparison with the larger point: Ahmadinejad is at war with Israel and the United States, and has promised to defeat us. If allowed to proceed to fruition, Iran’s development of large-scale uranium enrichment capabilities would represent so grave a deterioration to our national security, that we should view its continuing advance as strategic aggression. This dictates not a coercive policy of economic sanctions, but rather an increasingly ostentatious display of force. Every further step Iran takes in its nuclear program should be met by an opposite and (at least) equal reaction on our part. So, if they commit a new violation of the nonproliferation treaty, we should march another aircraft carrier strike group into the Gulf. If they go operational on the commercial-scale Natantz facility, we should start cruising destroyers three miles off their coast.
Systematically increasingly the threat of force, and pinning Iran into the logic of a showdown, is the only thing that will make a negotiated peaceful settlement attractive to the regime in Tehran. If we really want to give peace a chance, we must be ready to defend it militarily. Our current posture is an invitation to nuclear terrorism. The only hope I see for sanctions is if there are pragmatic pro-West elements within the regime who are willing to effectuate a change of course if not a change of leadership–and I don’t see much hope for that.
We are within the logic of aggression and self-defense. America should not be talking about economic sanctions, but about defending its defensive perimeter–and whatever else we may say about that perimeter, a non-nuclear Iran is a vital part of it. This isn’t a risk calibration, hope-for-the-best situation. If we allow the current leadership of Iran to acquire nuclear capabilities and then begin hiding things from the IAEA, nuclear proliferation will spin out of control, and nuclear terrorism–or at least the ever-present danger of it–will become a fact of life. If we are not clear that we will go to war to prevent that happening, we may as well fold and stop bothering our friends about economic sanctions.