Senator John McCain appeared before a conference of AIPAC this week and proposed that, “to contain and deter Iran, the United States should impose financial sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran.” He added that the United States should then “privatize the sanctions against Iran by launching a worldwide divestment campaign.” The Arizona Senator and presumptive Republican presidential nominee pooh-poohed any negotiations with the Iranian government.
The government of Iran is troublesome and dangerous. Yet the Bush administration’s policy, which McCain wants to continue, of bluster and empty threats in place of negotiations has produced nothing. If nothing else, the Iranian government as a regional player in the Middle East has become stronger in the vacuum created by bungling American leadership in the region.
Matthew Yglesias explains the shortcomings of McCain’s unilateral approach:
… the real moral of the story here is just to remind us of the limited practicality of a sanctions and divestment approach to Iran. In a highly globalized economy, it's difficult to try to hermetically seal off Iran economically. You start divesting from firms that do business with Iran, but then you still have firms that do business with firms that do business with Iran. Divest all you like, but Iran still has oil that people want to buy, which gives Iranians money they want to use to buy things with. Which isn't to say that economic pressure is totally ineffective, but how effective it is has a lot to do with how wide the network of pressuring entities is. A really global sanctions and divestment campaign can deliver enormous blows, while unilateral measures are difficult to really enforce in a serious way.
This is one of several reasons why there needs to be a good-faith negotiations component to dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. On the one hand, we ought to recognize the limited utility of coercion alone in changing Iranian behavior. And on the other hand, as we seek coercive measures, or credible threats of coercion, we need to make the coercing coalition as broad as possible and to do that we need to be seen by world opinion as approaching this subject in a serious way. Ultimately, international consensus against the idea of an Iranian nuclear weapon is the only way to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and to preserve and strengthen that consensus we need to act reasonably. Ideally, reasonable U.S. behavior will be met by reasonable Iranian behavior. If it's not, then reasonable U.S. behavior will set the stage for international cooperation that, unlike the all-bluster approach favored by conservatives, might actually accomplish something.
And let’s not forget that the policies of the Bush administration Senator McCain wants to continue for a third term has failed to promote any type of meaningful conservation program as the American consumption of oil. That failure has contributed to higher oil prices from oil producing countries like Iran. If McCain sincerely wanted to limit the influence of the Iranian government he would be proposing a conservation program to limit this country’s addition to oil. Of course, that would require negotiating with the American people.