Adjusting to Sanctions


The American-driven sanctions against Iran were meant to transform the "backlash state" into a law-abiding, cooperative, and constructive member of the world community. Washington expected trade and investment restrictions to cripple the productive base of the economy and curtail Iran's ability to support international terrorism or acquire sophisticated military hardware. Economic hardship and fiscal austerity would demoralize the population and turn it against the regime. And domestic popular discontent and external political isolation, Washington hoped, would bring the clerical leadership to its senses.

Inadequate hard data make an objective assessment of the sanctions difficult. Supporters of the policy claim that the cost to Iran has been immense, even greater than expected; critics dismiss the policy as self-defeating and divisive. What is certain, however, is that the economic, psychological, and political impact of the American sanctions has not produced the anticipated results or transformed the regime. Although the comparison may seem invidious, the Iranian economy under sanctions is in certain respects healthier and more stable than many developing economies the United States has assisted. Militarily, Iran appears to be stronger now than in 1989, and is certainly less vulnerable than some U.S. allies in the region. The embargo has isolated Washington rather than Tehran.

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