This time, the warmongers' silly season found its apogée
in U.S. neo-conservative Daniel Pipes' advice to Obama to
"bomb Iran," which appeared shortly after Tony Blair, having
outlined why he helped invade Iraq, remarked ominously, "We face the same problem about
Iran today." The Chilcot Inquiry in the United Kingdom on how the
Iraq War was launched ironically coincided with a considerable military build-up in the
Persian Gulf region. All this occurred amidst the continued struggle of Iran’s
civil rights movement and proclamations of Western leaders to be in support of
the latter’s efforts. But is there any evidence for this?
In contradistinction to war, sanctions are widely portrayed as
necessary, almost healthy medicine to bring about change in the opponent’s
policies. However, as the history of the West–Iran conflict proves, sanctions
have rather the state of crisis alive than contributed to its resolution.
Nonetheless, Western governments do not seem to have lost their dubious
fascination for them.
As the call for “crippling sanctions” became morally questionable
when last summer the impressive Green wave shook the streets of Tehran for fear
of wrecking the same, today the benign sounding “smart” or “targeted” sanctions
are on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Yet, a close look reveals a great deal of
wishful thinking as to the effects of such sanctions.
Gigantic dimensions of “smart sanctions”
“Smart sanctions”, it is claimed, are a magic wand with which to
decapitate evil. In the Iranian case, evil is being identified with the Islamic
Revolutionary Guards Corps. Originally a defense organization erected to
counter Iraqi aggression in the 1980s, the Guardians have developed into an
expansive socio-politico-economic conglomerate which is believed to possess
unrivalled economic and political power in today’s Islamic Republic.
As we are told, “smart sanctions” shall target the Guardians’ grip
on the Iranian power structure. The much neglected difficulty here – though it
is widely acknowledged that the bulk of Iranian economy is now in the hands of
the Guardians – is that in the end millions of civilians connected to these wide-ranging sectors thought to be controlled by the Guardians will be affected. Seen in this light, the gigantic dimension of these alleged “smart sanctions” comes
to the fore.
Moreover, so-called “crippling sanctions” that
target petrol supply to Iran are still en route. In anticipation of those U.S.
unilateral sanctions, the world’s largest insurance companies have announced
their retreat from Iran. This
concerns both the financial and shipping sectors, and affects petrol supplies
to Iran which imports 40 percent of its needs. Also three giant oil traders ended supplies
to Iran, which amounted to half of Tehran’s imports.
Needless to say, such sanctions ultimately harm the population. To add, a
complete implementation thereof – i.e. preventing Asian competitors to step in
– would require a naval blockade which amounts to an act of war.
Crippling the ordinary population
As stressed by civil society figures and economists, the price of
sanctions is being paid by the Iranian population at
large. The Iranian economy – manufacturing, agriculture, bank and
financial sectors etc. – has been hurt from almost three
decades of sanctions. Even today, businesses cannot easily obtain
much needed goods on the international market to continue production and must
often pay above-standard prices. Moreover, the scientific community has
faced discrimination in areas of research as has Iran’s technological advances
been slowed down.
Reflecting the dangers sanctions pose to the Green Movement, last
fall Mir-Hossein Mousavi stated:
“We are opposed to any types of sanctions against our nation.” The same was
recently uttered by his fellow opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi in an interview with Corriere
Meanwhile a more fundamental problem
remains – hardly acknowledged by many proponents who succumb to the adventurous
illusion of having a say in the design and implementation of sanctions: They
are mainly designed by the American Israeli Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC), introduced to the U.S. Congress and finally
implemented by the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and
Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey – an AIPAC confidant. Along
this process, the potential suffering by Iran’s civil society hardly plays a
Sanctions – either “crippling” or “smart” – ultimately harm ordinary citizens.
“Smart sanctions” is as much of an
oxymoron as “smart weapons” which supposedly by “surgical strikes” only take
out evil components. Indeed, much as in the case of
their militaristic brothers-in-sprit, in the end the “collateral damages” of “smart
sanctions” remain dominant.
A futile political instrument in today’s world
More generally, in an increasingly multipolar globalized world,
sanctions imposed upon energy-rich countries are basically futile as an
effective policy tool. Too numerous are business-driven actors that are only
too happy to jump in. Thus, Chinese, Russian, and even U.S. companies (acting
via Dubai) have hugely benefitted from the European, U.S.-pressured withdrawal
from the Iranian market.
Thus, sanctions – a medicine with which Western policy-circles are
so obsessed with – are not a cure but a slow poison applied to the civil
society and thus the civil rights movement. Sanctions as prototype of economic
warfare in concert with the seasonal flaring-up of war-mongering are a
dangerous mix. The deafening “drums of war” continue to bang upon the beating
heart of Iran’s civil society.
Sanctions and threats of war: Poisonous for democratic development
All this suggests that sanctions are perhaps a fig leaf for other
agendas. For, in contrast to Western proclamations, sanctions do harm the civil
society while cementing the position of hardliners. Iran’s middle class as a
result will be affected by this further isolation of the country as sanctions
punish honest traders and reward corrupt ones. The Guardians with their assumed
60 harbors at the Persian Gulf control the bulk of imports and sanctions will
only bolster the trend of flourishing “black channels”.
One might indeed argue that the not-so-unconscious “collateral
damage” of never-ending sanctions is any meaningful transition to more
democracy in Iran – a prospect which would set an uncomfortable precedent for
the West’s authoritarian friends in the region.
What next: “Surgical strikes” or serious diplomacy?
At the very least, the unending story of sanctions bears testimony
to Western leaders’ commitment to uphold “credibility” in the face of adverse
conditions as much as to imposing their will on Iran. A futile exercise
– even a dangerous one – if one begins to contemplate the aftermath of “smart
sanctions” being imposed: Will the next desperate move entail “surgical
Instead of going on believing that sanctions will one day develop
their desired effects, it is high time to put the brakes. Hence, the only way
forward would be to adopt a set of policies that would disarm hardliners of all
sides whose business flourishes in the vicious cycle of enmity. It is only by détente
that grist to the mills of radicalism can be removed – and a sustainable
de-militarization of Iranian politics attained. Revoking existing sanctions on
goods for civilian use could work wonders that would shake the very fundaments
of confrontational postures.
Despite all frivolous claims, the diplomatic route has not been
exhausted. Indeed, we are far from it. Since the core problem remains the
“security dilemma” in the region, it would be wise for the West to call upon
Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The transatlantic
“coercive strategy” vis-à-vis Iran – as it is accurately described in Diplomatic Studies
– must be suspended for it undermines prospects for peace and development