Sanctioned Realities: Iran and the Failure of Economic Warfare

Sanctions have long been a staple in US foreign policy, on the assumption that they are an effective alternative to war in shaping the behavior of U.S. adversaries. But a new book by Narges Bajoghli, Vali Nasr, Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, and Ali Vaez, How Sanctions Work: The Impact of Economic Warfare on Iran, demonstrates that punishing sanctions are not only ineffective, but actually counterproductive. The case of Iran, which has undergone U.S. sanctions for over four decades — is instructive. Escalating U.S. sanctions have only furthered enmity between the U.S. and Iran, increasing the likelihood of lethal conflict and the prospect of a nuclear Iran, all the while compelling the Iranian population to pay the price. At a time when the risk of a region-wide war in the Middle East is growing, it is important to consider the extent to which economic warfare has helped bring us to this point, and what that means for U.S. policy going forward.

The Quincy Institute held a conversation on these issues with Narges Bajoghli and Vali Nasr, Co-Directors of the Rethinking Iran initiative at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Trita Parsi, executive vice-president of the Quincy Institute, moderated.


Narges Bajoghli

Narges Bajoghli, Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins-SAIS, is an award-winning anthropologist, scholar, and filmmaker. Her book, "Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic", received the 2020 Margaret Mead Award, 2020 Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title, and the 2021 Silver Medal in Independent Publisher Book Awards. She also directed the documentary "The Skin That Burns.” Bajoghli has written for The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Affairs, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, and Jacobin. She has appeared as a commentator on CNN, DemocracyNow!, NPR, BBC WorldService, BBC NewsHour, PBS NewsHour, and in Spanish on radio across Latin America.

Vali Nasr

Vali Nasr is the Majid Khadduri Professor of International Affairs and Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins-SAIS, and a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center. From 2012 to 2019, he served as the Dean of the School, and from 2009 to 2011, he was the Senior Advisor to U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. He authored "Forces of Fortune: The Rise of a New Muslim Middle Class and How it Will Change Our World"; "The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future"; and "Democracy in Iran: History and the Quest for Liberty". He has written for The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

Trita Parsi

Trita Parsi is the Executive Vice President at the Quincy Institute. He was the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order and was named by the Washingtonian Magazine as one of the 25 most influential voices on foreign policy in Washington D.C. in both 2021 and 2022. Parsi is an expert on U.S.-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign politics, and the geopolitics of the Middle East. He is the co-founder and former President of the National Iranian American Council. He received his PhD in foreign policy at Johns Hopkins’ School for Advanced International Studies.