The Trump administration’s announcement this week of plans to impose new sanctions targeting Iranian leaders and organizations—including the Supreme Leader and his office, military commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif—will have little practical effect, according to sanctions experts. Senior Iranian officials and their organizations are very unlikely to use international financial institutions or hold substantial assets abroad, and those are the major pathways through which the United States exerts coercive economic pressure. In other words, the new sanctions are more symbolic than effective.
This is not a bad thing. Symbolism is useful in international affairs, especially between adversarial countries like Iran and the United States, which lack formal diplomatic relations and need to find other ways to communicate. Intermediaries can be one option, symbolic measures another.
The problem with these new sanctions is not that they are symbolic, but that the messages they convey to Iran and the rest of the world are foolish and dangerous, and will fail to advance U.S. interests.
Here are three messages the Trump administration sent to Iran this week...