The Cruelty and Injustice of Sanctions

September 3rd, 2019 - by Daniel Larison / The American Conservative

The Cruelty and Injustice of Sanctions

Daniel Larison / The American Conservative

(September 2, 2019)  — The Los Angeles Times reported last week on the destructive effects of US sanctions on Iran:

The sanctions, however, have been felt heavily on the streets of Iran, despite statements from US officials that the “maximum pressure” campaign does not affect ordinary Iranians.

No longer able to afford fresh food, some Iranians in middle-class neighborhoods in Tehran have resorted to buying withered cucumbers and rotting tomatoes, grapes, apples and peaches that grocery store salesmen put aside every day at dusk.

The economic war against the Iranian people means the steady, ongoing deterioration of their quality of life. Tens of millions of people are forced to endure increasing hardship, and many are driven into penury. When hawkish ghouls tout that the sanctions are “working,” they are celebrating the impoverishment and misery millions of people. Worse, these people are being punished for things they haven’t done and cannot control.

The article concludes:

Some citizens have given up and abandoned Iran, and others hope to follow.

Farshid Andikjou, a 27-year-old former engineer, said he was studying English with the intention of finding a job abroad.

“Give me a good reason to stay in my country,” he said. “What will I achieve 10 years from now? I’d rather try my chance somewhere else.”

Sanctions don’t just inflict economic pain in the present, but they also deprive people of hope that the future will get any better. Many of the young and ambitious people that could be changing their country are being driven abroad because the economic war has destroyed any prospects that they may have had. Someone in his late twenties in Iran has already seen most of the last decade pass by under two sanctions regimes, and the future must look very grim.

One of the other effects of the sanctions is to force people to spend so much time surviving that they have no time or energy for political protest. This is one of the findings of a recent report by Raz Zimmt and Tomer Fadlon:

The worsening economic crisis requires the citizens, mainly the urban middle class, which is considered the backbone of the movement for political and social change in Iran, to focus on the struggle for day-to-day survival, and prevents it from being available for the struggle to advance political and civil freedoms. Moreover, the economic crisis increases the dependence of workers, most of whom are employed in the public sector or the government, thereby lowering the chances that they will risk their economic and employment security through political and civil involvement.

It is not the least bit surprising that an economic war does more harm to critics of the government than it does to the government. Sanctions frequently weaken the political opposition and tighten the government’s grip, and that has been happening in Iran over the last year.

It may seem counterintuitive, but sanctions that target a country’s entire economy tend to increase the government’s power by making the people more dependent on it and by expanding the government’s role in the economy. At the same time, it saps the resources of the government’s critics by forcing them to spend their time and effort on simply making ends meet.

Predictably, the “maximum pressure” campaign has also been a boon to hard-liners that have been able to use it to strengthen their position inside the country:

The Iranian regime is managing, as in the past, to contain the economic difficulties without leading to deterioration and unrest that will undermine its stability. It seems that President Trump’s continued policy of pressure and the escalation between Iran and the US is strengthening the hardliner groups and encouraging the Iranian leadership to show stubbornness inwardly as well, and to increase the internal repression.

These latest reports confirm that the sanctions are quite effective in crushing the people and dashing their hopes, and they are strengthening the government against its internal critics. Ordinary Iranians are made to suffer because a foreign government has arbitrarily decided that they should. Once again, we see that the administration’s Iran policy is unjust cruelty and a failure on its own terms.

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