On Sunday morning, barely twelve hours after the conclusion of Iran’s unprecedented missile barrage on Israel, White House spokesman John Kirby was asked on Fox News Sunday about the Biden administration’s recent decision to waive some sanctions on Iran.

“You know the conversations about unfreezing assets, about waivers on sanctions,” Shannon Bream began. “Could this administration have been tougher on Iran? Did it sense an opening?”

Kirby responded: “It’s hard to look at what President Biden has done with respect to Iran and say that he hasn’t been tough on Iran, or that we haven’t put pressure on them.”

Is it? Because it seems to me that if the administration was prepared militarily for the Iranian attacks Saturday night, and if the president doesn’t want Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to retaliate, then a punishment of some kind could have been ready to be instituted immediately, and certainly two days later. At the very least, it would have been easy for the president to cancel the recent sanctions waiver.

It is certainly not the case that sanctions are somehow off the table, at least conceptually. “Biden on Sunday convened leaders from the Group of Seven nations, who said they would consider new sanctions on Iran,” reports the Wall Street Journal. The Journal article, like most of the reporting since the attacks, stressed that the president wants a diplomatic response. It is also clear from the statements that Biden considers sanctions a plausible contribution to such a diplomatic response.

So, where are the sanctions?

The Germans don’t seem to be an obstacle here. “I am strongly in favor of extending [sanctions] to Iran, because we can see how dangerous its actions are at the moment,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.

Would the British consider more Iran sanctions? “Yes, absolutely,” says Foreign Minister David Cameron. “We already have 400 sanctions on Iran. We put in place a whole new sanctions regime at the end of last year, which is proving very effective. We’ve sanctioned the IRGC, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, in its entirety, and we’ll continue to look at what further steps we can do.”

Great. So once again, where are they?

Were the allies waiting to see how much damage was done by the Iranian missiles and drones? If so, that’s an indication that no, there will not be sanctions immediately forthcoming. And there is evidence for this idea that the seriousness of the attack would only be judged by the seriousness of the damage it caused. It’s an absurd scale on which to weigh a response because, like spritzing a misbehaving cat with water, it loses its effectiveness if not done right away. The West had the ability to ensure that this case would be more like touching a hot stove: Iran would immediately feel the burn, triggering a response that was basically automatic.

Having the debate over sanctions now—or any retaliative measure, to be honest—only makes it seem as though you can escape punishment by attempting and failing to murder lots of people.

There is also the problem of pretending the Iranian attacks occurred in a vacuum. “U.S. and Western officials anticipate that Israel will quickly respond to Iran’s attacks, as soon as Monday, officials said,” the Journal reports. “But the officials said they hoped both countries could come away with a sense of victory, giving them an off-ramp that would limit escalatory moves.” (Emphasis added.)

That does not sound like any punishment is even being considered. If you want Iran to “come away with a sense of victory,” you certainly wouldn’t come down on the mullahs’ heads. More generally, as a world power trying to maintain equilibrium in an American-led global order, why on earth would you want Iran to come away with a sense of victory at all? That strikes me as a mortifying statement.

The Iranian attack was an unprecedented and direct act of war. Iran should not be left with a sense of victory. It should, by definition, be shown to have very clearly lost this exchange, otherwise it will be repeated. If you want this reckless attack to cost Iran, but you don’t want to see a wider military escalation, then your obvious move is to have sanctions at the ready. Not to discuss sanctions. Not to be talked into sanctions by Israel, as if the Jewish state must negotiate with the U.S. for its right to assert its own sovereignty.

A precedent here could have easily been established by automatically linking the Iranian barrage to sanctions, because the world does not want to encourage the idea that rogue states are permitted to take free shots at our allies.

It should have been done already, but it’s not too late: Bring on the sanctions, or the world will have just become a much more dangerous place.

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