The Trump administration recently declared they would no longer grant Iranian oil waivers to China and India. This shift in policy aims to cripple and isolate Iran economically and decrease its power in the Middle East. In his article, “Even Smarter Sanctions: How to Fight in the Era of Economic Warfare,” Edward Fishman lays out four questions that policymakers should ask themselves before turning to sanctions: 1) is there money at stake; 2) will economic pressure actually change the target country’s policies, 3) do the United States and its allies have the determination to maintain these measures over the long haul, and 4) does the target have a feasible off-ramp? This recent change applies primarily to the first and second question.
Regarding money at stake, Iran’s main source of revenue is its one million barrels of oil exports daily. Obama’s 2010 sanctions against firms conducting business with Iran put “more stress on the Iranian economy than decades of an embargo ever did” (Fishman). The waivers, however, provided a loophole for Tehran. Stopping waivers to these should put a massive indent on Tehran’s economy. As for actually changing the target country’s policies, Fishman argues sanctions tend to work when a target’s population is politically active. Because Hassan Rouhani campaigned in 2013 on the promise of freeing Iran from sanctions, this clampdown from the US government will likely force Tehran to rethink its nuclear arms. As the article states, however, China’s pushback against the waivers could complicate both the effectiveness of the sanctions and the current round of trade negotiations between President Trump and President Xi.