Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu have had their share of, shall we say, differences of opinion. The latest concerns the efficacy of sanctions against Iran. This morning on ABC, President Obama’s mouthpiece Robert Gibbs claimed that “we have made progress in delaying [Iran's] nuclear program.” “Our goal,” he added “is to prevent Iran from having a nuclear program and I think we’re making progress on that.”
But Netanyahu, the world leader with the biggest stake in making real progress on this front, doesn’t see any. He stated:
We have to be honest and say that all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota. And that’s why I believe that we need a strong and credible military threat coupled with the sanctions to have a chance to change that situation.
So who is right, the man whose country faces the prospect of a devastating Iranian nuclear attack or the man who needs to persuade American voters that he’s tough on Iran?
Well, let’s see. The Washington Post has declared that “The danger Iran will become a nuclear power is growing, not diminishing.” And the Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration has granted waivers from sanctions to all twenty of Iran’s major trading partners, including China. As the Journal explained:
Though economic sanctions still haven’t slowed or stopped Iran’s nuclear drive, the Obama Administration has decided to make them even weaker. The Iran sanctions regime is looking like the U.S. tax code—filled with loopholes. It’s so weak, in fact, that all 20 of Iran’s major trading partners are now exempt from them. We’ve arrived at a kind of voodoo version of sanctions. They look real, insofar as Congress forced them into a bill President Obama had to sign in December. The Administration has spoken incantations about their powers. But if you’re a big oil importer in China, India or 18 other major economies, the sanctions are mostly smoke.
But at least Obama is consistent. He attempted to water down the congressionally mandated sanctions before they were enacted. Now, he’s undermining them by granting waivers.
So I think we should take the word of Netanyahu, who has real skin in the game, not the word of the perenially duplicitous American president, whose only skin is political. The sanctions have not set back the Iranian program by one iota. Nor, Netanyahu could have added, was Obama ever serious about setting that program back.