Will sanctions persuade Iran to stop building nuclear weapons? No such question can be answered with finality, but it is more likely that the Obama administration’s graduated sanctions will accelerate Tehran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. The Obama administration, according to news accounts, is aghast that Israel might take preemptive action rather than give sanctions time to work. Sanctions, though, are more likely to prompt Iran to stake everything on the nuclear card. The last time the West dealt with a similar case, the prospect of economic collapse and the fear of regime change motivated the outbreak of World War II.

Iran is planning to double its defense budget even though its currency is collapsing. These are related events: in the medium term, the free-fall of Iran’s rial constitutes a transfer of wealth to the government from what remains of Iran’s private sector. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, “The government, which receives oil revenue mostly in dollars and euros, is profiting from the rial’s decline, analysts said. ‘Their income is in dollars, so a strong dollar helps them to buy more rials to pay their bills,’ said one prominent economist, who asked not to be identified, for fear of reprisals.” At least for the time being, sanctions strengthen the relative position of the regime, while undermining its long-term staying power — unless, of course, Tehran begins a new set of regional wars under a nuclear umbrella.

An important insight into the character of the Iranian leadership can be gained from Adolf Hitler’s speech to the German army’s top commanders at Obersalzberg on Aug. 22, 1939, a week before the invasion of Poland. Hitler began by explaining that he initially had wanted to attack the Allies in the West but that circumstances compelled him to take Poland out first. The question, then, was why begin war at that particular moment. And the answer had two parts: economic weakness and the threat of regime change.

We have nothing to lose, but much indeed to gain. As a result of the constraints forced upon us, our economic position is such that we cannot hold out for more than a few years. [Hermann] Goering can confirm this. We have no other choice, we must act. … At no point in the future will Germany have a man with more authority than I. But I could be replaced at any moment by some idiot or criminal. … The morale of the German people is excellent. It can only worsen from here.