I want to clarify my point in the last post. The Bush administration held a hard line against Iran and tried to bring pressure from many different angles. However, they did so clumsily and failed to win significant international support, particularly from China and Russia, two of Iran's key economic partners. While nothing is certain, the Obama administration efforts have garnered significant international support including spoken support from Russia.
So sanctions may be possible and effective given a united, sustained effort. This is where the Bush administration consistently failed. Its outright rejection of multi-nationalism and insistence on unilaterism made international support impossible on any number of issues where the US could not achieve its objectives alone. This was an ideological blindness that Obama obviously does not share.
One idea discussed in a great conversation with my parents last night was the possibility that there was a bit of quid pro quo with Russia concerning the missile defense shield and Iran's nuclear program. Obama conceded some ground to Russia by realigning American missile defense priorities to the Middle East and out of Eastern Europe. I don't think anyone realistically thinks Russia is going to launch nukes anytime soon so strategically it makes sense. Plus, it puts further pressure on Iran by showing that the US takes the Iranian threat seriously and will take steps to counter Iranian missiles.
If Obama does get Russia's cooperation on the Iranian nuclear program and possible sanctions, then he will have won a huge diplomatic victory crucial to achieving non-proliferation. It goes to show that toughness isn't everything; sometimes, you have to be smooth as well.