What a long 27 years it's been. But on Saturday, the US finally won UN support to isolate Iranian leaders, whose 1979 Islamic revolution has become nuclear intimidation. The UN sanctions are mild, however, reflecting new US patience.
What wasn't mild in the Security Council's move against Tehran's nuclear program is the fact that the vote was unanimous. Even China and Russia were on board, despite investments in Iranian energy projects. To the US, that 15-0 vote was more important than strong UN sanctions.
This message of isolation comes nearly five years after President Bush placed Iran on an "axis of evil" for its hand in international terrorism. That initial, post-9/11 squaring off, however, has been sobered up by US missteps in Iraq and Europe's moves to prevent unilateral US actions. Perhaps it was also intelligence reports that Iran may be years away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon.
Iran has upset three decades of global efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons by cheating on treaty obligations in its nuclear program. The UN sanctions are targeted to fix that by banning imports and exports of materials relating to Iranian uranium enrichment, reprocessing, and heavy-water reactors. Many Arab states, not to mention Israel, were behind the sanctions to keep Iran from achieving Middle East dominance.
The US has had to learn it must be careful not to give Iran's ruling clerics one more excuse to stoke anti- Western sentiments among Iranians as a way to overcome their declining popularity. The US has now helped corral international opinion against the regime. The clerics can't easily rally the masses with the worn-out "America is satan" canard.
The regime's decline in popularity was evident in last week's local elections. Voters turned against many candidates of Iran's most radical public figure, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His fiery rhetoric has further isolated Iran while he has failed to deliver jobs to two-thirds of Iran's 70 million people who are under the age of 24. He's helped to scare off foreign investment in Iran's oil fields, leading to forecasts of oil income disappearing within a decade.
The elections revealed splits among Iran's ruling elite, which further undercut the regime's claim to rule in the name of Islam more than the rule of law.
The targeted sanctions, meanwhile, send a signal to Iranians that the world resents their leaders – just as much as they do. Iran's economy can no longer afford the isolation that the clerics have used to retain power. And with this UN action, "the West" is no longer a convenient bogeyman to crack down on domestic dissent. Only remaining oil wealth and crony capitalism keep the theocrats in power. Their claims to Islamic legitimacy as the source for power are a spent force.
These sanctions should encourage other nations to be wary of any dealings with Iran that promote its nuclear program. They are one step in a long process to wind down a revolution that's failed. They may yet help crumble the regime from within by playing to the Iranian masses better than the clerics can.
This UN action may not soon bring reformers to power and create full democracy in Iran. But they do help bring that future closer.