“A Madman with a Razor Blade”: New Sanctions Against Iran

 In Iran

The Bush administration announced a package of sweeping unilateral sanctions against the Iranian government yesterday. This is the first time a branch of a nation’s military, in this case the Quds Force, has been designated as a terrorist group. The punitive measures also cut off more than 20 entities from the American financial system. In addition, the Revolutionary Guard Corps was named a “proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.”  Despite making the harshest move since the embassy takeover in 1979, the administration insists these sanctions are an integral part of pursuing a diplomatic resolution to tensions with Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continued to blame Iran for the failure of negotiations, stating, "Unfortunately the Iranian government continues to spurn our offer of open negotiations, instead threatening peace and security.”  She does not acknowledge, however, that the impasse is largely due to the US’s refusal to negotiate directly without preconditions, including an Iranian commitment to stop enriching uranium, which they claim is for peaceful purposes. There were some strong reactions both inside and outside the US to the latest move:

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin warned Thursday against new sanctions on Iran, saying they would lead to a dead end.

"Why worsen the situation by threatening sanctions and bring it to a dead end?" Putin said. "It’s not the best way to resolve the situation by running around like a madman with a razor blade in his hand."

Russia and China, which hold veto power at the U.N. Security Council, are allies or business partners of Iran and are the chief holdup for the new sanctions sought by the United States.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the new sanctions smack of the "chest-pounding" that preceded the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and raise "the specter of an intensified effort to make the case for an invasion of Iran."

This announcement brings us back to the question many of us have struggled with over the past year: is the US closer to launching military operations against Iran? Depending on the day of the week or the source, one can find wild variations in answer to that question. New concerns have been raised this week about the request for funding in the Iraq supplemental to enable B-2 stealth bombers to carry the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, a 30,000 pound bunker-busting weapon that does not seem to have a possible use in Iraq or Afghanistan:

The MOP is the the military’s largest conventional bomb, a super "bunker-buster" capable of destroying hardened targets deep underground. The one-line explanation for the request said it is in response to "an urgent operational need from theater commanders."

What urgent need? The Pentagon referred questions on this to Central Command.

ABC News called CENTCOM to ask what the "urgent operational need" is. CENTCOM spokesman Maj. Todd White said he would look into it, but, so far, no answer.

There doesn’t appear to be any potential targets for a bomb like that in Iraq. It could potentially be used on Taliban or al Qaeda hideouts in the caves along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but there would be no need to use a stealth bomber there.

So where would the military use a stealth bomber armed with a 30,000-pound bomb like this? Defense analysts say the most likely target for this bomb would be Iran’s flagship nuclear facility in Natanz, which is both heavily fortified and deeply buried.

Regardless of the likelihood of war with Iran, which is nearly impossible to pinpoint, we must remain proactive in calling for diplomacy, and in offering a vision of what smart, pragmatic diplomacy with Iran could accomplish.

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