Oct 28, 2010

The idea of sanctions

This morning as I was getting ready for work there was a new story on the radio about the recent round of sanctions slapped on Iran. Apparently this is the toughest round yet, and the effects are already being felt. The U.S. government has been applying pressure on banks in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia to dissuade them from cooperating with the Iranians. The currency had taken a dive prompting their central bank to take action.

The prices of commodities are on the rise, and an unpopular bill to discontinue food and fuel subsidies has been presented to the parliament. The intent is to cut government costs and shift some of the burden to their citizens.

Economic (and political) sanctions are usually sold as a mechanism to force rogue regimes to capitulate to demands from the international community, or better yet to bring about regime change. But I have to ask. How often are these sanctions successful?

For the most part the regimes we are dealing with are not led by rational people. Sure enough it may complicate the running of an economy when they are unable to sell import and export and inflation runs rampant but they always seem to find other regimes to assist them and thus circumventing the sanctions. In trying to hurt the bad guys at the top we end up hurting innocent people by cutting them off from basic living supplies – food, clothing, medicine, etc.

The Iranian government has been under some form sanctions or another since the 1979 revolution. It remains an oppressive state, and the country’s leadership is still bent on becoming a nuclear power. Is the lingering hope that with the increased financial strain the average Iranian will be enraged enough to take to the streets in protest, and thus forcing the government’s hand; and if the government doesn’t come to heel the leaders will be drawn and quartered in a public square? Oh please…that only happens in movies.

You can bet that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his PR machine will exaggerate any negative effects of the sanctions on their economy and point out how ‘the infidels’ are the reason for the country’s suffering. And truly what better way to justify their quest for nuclear power as means of defending themselves from the bullies who want to interfere in their business?

I understand the rationale for applying pressure on government who don’t want to play nice with their neighbours, mistreat their people, misuse funds and resources for personal gain but I don’t know if sanctions are the right solution. Certainly a military incursion should be a last resort (ahem…
Iraq…), but what is the right answer?

The change has to come
from within. Those protests in Iran after the hotly contested elections in 2009 need to happen again, on a bigger scale and with more ferocity. This cannot be done by outside interests in the U.S. or Israel. The Iranians are not going to look outside for military intervention or for those sanctions to bring about regime change. They are going to need rally themselves in order to take their country back, if that is indeed what they want.

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