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Posted at 2:05 PM ET, 01/25/2011

Stuart Levey departs

By Jennifer Rubin

Stuart Levey, who headed the Treasury Department's sanctions programs aimed at Iran and other rogue regimes and reconceived how economic sanctions could be applied, is retiring. Former staff and those who know him well tell me the stated reason is the real one -- six and a half grueling years is enough, and the time has come for him to move on.

Conservatives and liberals, whether supportive or critical of the strategy behind economic sanctions, uniformly praise him. A senior Senate staffer intimately involved in Iran policy e-mailed me upon Levey's resignation:

What Stuart has done is totally transformational. He basically rewrote the book on sanctions and economic warfare -- discovering that the U.S. had massively more leverage than anyone before imagined. It's not just Iran. It's North Korea and Al Qaeda too. The guy is an American hero.

A former senior adviser echoed that sentiment:

Stuart has revolutionized the way our government and others around the world use sanctions, creating the economic equivalent of precision-guided weapons that have crippled the financial networks of terrorists, weapons proliferaters, and rogue regimes. His accomplishments at Treasury are truly remarkable."

Others involved in sanctions policy suggest that he could have been more effective had he had more support and experienced less infighting. One sanctions expert reminds me that sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran have still not been issued, and no foreign, non-Iranian bank has been sanctioned for its involvement with Iran.

Some in Congress are fretting that our sanctions efforts will be hampered by Levey's departure. But those who have worked with his named replacement, Assistant Secretary David Cohen, tell me Cohen and Levey were close personal friends, and Cohen performed admirably in his post.

But what should this really tell us about sanctions policy? Levey, I think, ultimately proved the critics of sanctions policy correct. If one of the most diligent, brilliant and creative public servants could not harness the power of economic sanctions to halt the Iranian nuclear program, isn't that forceful evidence the policy -- not the execution -- was fundamentally flawed?

The point of sanctions was not to inflict pain on the Iranian people; it was to force the country's despots to change their behavior. We have seen no evidence of this. A computer virus and some well-timed car accidents slowed the progress of Iran's nuclear program, but not the regime's determination to obtain nuclear weapons. And Iran's influence through surrogate terrorist groups continues to increase, most recently in Hezbollah's virtual takeover of Lebanon. Iran is still on the rise; the U.S. is still in retreat in the region.

None of this is attributable to Levey's lack of diligence. Economic sanctions were, I suppose, an experiment worth trying. (And had they not be delayed by 18 months because of fruitless and counterproductive "engagement," they would have gotten up to speed faster.) But now we see that sanctions critics were right all along. Even the best sanctions efforts innovatively implemented have failed to meet our objectives. We need to change the regime, not the rulers' hearts and minds.

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 25, 2011; 2:05 PM ET
Categories:  Iran  
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Hezbollah's takeover of Lebanon occured during a democracy (or at least the Middle East equivalent of it). So here we go again, do you want democracy but also the ability to dictate the result of the vote?

Make up your mind Jennifer Romney!

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 25, 2011 2:15 PM | Report abuse

"A computer virus and some well-timed car accidents slowed the progress of Iran's nuclear program, but not the regime's determination to obtain nuclear weapons"

Well-timed car accidents????

This is incredible Ms. Rubin, vehicles rigged by explosives exploding on the streets can be objectively called car accidents.

We would be rightfully outraged if an Iranian journalist referred to 9/11 as "aviation mishaps involving plane crashes"
I get the whole, "if we do it, it's ok, if they do it, it's the manifestation of evil on earth" arguments.

But this is a bit too far, we, or the Israelis or our Iranian proxy groups blew up vehicles killing Iranian scientist.

This type of distortion diminishes your paper.

Posted by: BG75 | January 25, 2011 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Oh, what a surprise. Stuart Levey is leaving (perhaps for a well-deserved rest in an illegal Israeli settlement in the Palestine Occupied Territories) to be replaced by David Cohen. Am I not mistaken in thinking that Jewish Americans have chosen to fill all government positions that have to do with the Middle East? Could it be that these "embeds" are more interested in furthering the short-sighted territorial and hegemonic ambitions of Israel at the expense of US national security?

Posted by: xerocada | January 25, 2011 4:09 PM | Report abuse

I am quite amazed at xerocada's comment: so when we see two Jewish-sounding names (but remember Defense Secretary Cohen? Not a Jew. Not that it matters...) we infer that the world, or the government or the media or... (take your pick) has been taken over by Jews (who are fewer than 2% of the American population and 15 million total in the world - they probably do more than triple-duty to cover all takeovers in this world!) Is it ever OK to make such comments when we see two Irish, Greek, Italian, or African-Americans in the same organization? And do we suspect they are furthering any other but American interests? If we ever do -- especially with as much evidence as in this case -- that's wrong!

Posted by: adnask | January 25, 2011 4:23 PM | Report abuse

If Stuart Levey's approach was so effective, then where is the result?

May be it is time for some so called briiant advisors/politicans to come to their senses and realize force and threat of force doesn't produce any result with Iranians, it only makes the matter worse. Iran suspended uranium enrichment in 2003 for two years, with were promissed of economic benefits and help, Iran received zero help. Iran then returned to its enrichment program.
Iran had a democraticaly ellected government of Prime Minister Mosadegh in 1950, but was toppled by CIA and British and brought Shah to power. Shah in return for 30 years cultivated Mullahs and communists(MKO was part of them).

It doesn't matter what Iran does or it doesn't, because the west never is happyy short of submission, and that won't happen.

Posted by: abraham3 | January 25, 2011 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Once again, Jeniffer Rubin shows her true warmongering colors and her penchant for misrepresentation. However, at least she understands the fruitlessness of sanctions as an instrument of US foreign policy. The departure of Stuart Levey, the most sadistic person in Washington, could not come a moment too soon. His only goal has been to bring misery to the people of Iran.

Ms Rubin talks about the Iranian "regime's determination to obtain nuclear weapons." Here again, she resorts to complete misrepresentation and lies. Is she a mind-reader? How does she know the "determination" of the regime? Even the new head of Israeli military intelligence stated today that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. The idea of regime change is based on a typical arrogant American attitude. What business is it of the US to change the government of another country? How about changing the US government which has deprived its own citizens of some of their basic rights and instituted torture and endless incarceration without charges as its basic policies. Congress is also 100% in the pocket of lobbyists such as AIPAC and NRA. Let's clean up the US government first before talking about changing the governments of other countries.

Posted by: quinterius | January 26, 2011 2:42 AM | Report abuse

Shameful Rubin subtly endorses another war we cant afford.

Posted by: wpost16 | January 26, 2011 7:37 AM | Report abuse

Stuart Levey IS a hero - for excellence in his job.

Ms. Rubin should be more patient. Syria needs to float $55BIL in bonds in order to survive economically, and Iran will not be able to foot that bill. The effectiveness of economic sanctions is turning Iran into an economic colony of China. I do not think the Shi'ite theocracy is loving that scenario.

Posted by: K2K2 | January 26, 2011 10:14 AM | Report abuse

"He basically rewrote the book on sanctions and economic warfare"

Yeah huh? "rewrote" the book eh? Then both of those senior staffer/advisers need to re-read that book by Yuan because nothing that basic is new or re-written.

"efforts will be hampered by Levey's departure."
"But now we see that sanctions critics were right all along. Even the best sanctions efforts innovatively implemented have failed to meet our objectives."
Are they helpless newborn kittens? Not able to read books either? Just what is going on there? Objectives? Too big? Not realistic? Or just plainly not well thought out and/or implemented?
Some of it looks like amatuer hour.

Posted by: 1eachBENNIS | January 26, 2011 2:01 PM | Report abuse

We keep hearing the phrase from the President downwards "We have no intention of sanctions harming the people of Iran. They designed to change the behaviour of the regime". Yet surprise, surprise they are devastating the Iranian people just as they devastated the Iraqi people who were then subsequently bombed, a de ja vous to come? Sanctions are a blunt instrument, they have NEVER worked, but it seems they transport politicians into the comfort zone.

Posted by: mdnazemi | January 27, 2011 1:09 PM | Report abuse

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