Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Iran sanctions

During the 1990s I was pretty much indifferent to the negative side of economic sanctions like those imposed on Iraq. Economic sanctions looked like a constructive alternative to military confrontation. I'm more skeptical now. In the case of Iran, sanctions targeted to deny them materials critical for nuclear weapons make sense to me. But for our militarists, the alleged Iranian nuclear program is just an excuse for promoting an invasion and new war in yet another Muslim country.

Daniel Luban writes in Neocons Worried That Sanctions Might Not Kill Enough Innocent Iranians LobeLog 12/30/09:

But targeted sanctions are evidently not gratuitously destructive enough to satisfy the “bomb Iran” crowd. Thus we see Commentary’s Jennifer Rubin complaining that such sanctions reflect the administration’s misguided desire to “avoid being too harsh, too effective, or inflict too much damage”. Instead of genuinely “crippling sanctions,” the weak-kneed administration “[doesn’t] want to topple the regime nor inflict much damage, just target those ‘elements’ they think are the really bad guys.”

Rubin is rather vague about fleshing out what kind of “damage” she is hoping for. This is hardly surprising, since the unpleasant truth underlying all the chest-beating talk about “crippling” sanctions is that their primary effect would be to inflict suffering upon precisely the civilians on whose behalf she claims to speak. The logic endorsed by sanctions proponents dictates that once the civilian population is sufficiently ravaged and impoverished, they will rise up in earnest and overthrow the regime. A far more likely outcome, however, is that crude sanctions like the refined petroleum bills will merely inflict gratuitous suffering on the population without harming the regime itself — as we saw in Iraq, where “crippling” sanctions killed hundreds of thousands of civilians (at the very least) without weakening Saddam Hussein’s hold on power. [my emphasis]
I'm not clear on what the best estimates of civilian death in Iraq due to sanctions really are. But the point is an important one.

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