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Opinion: Ineffective Iranian Sanctions

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Economic sanctions have been a foreign policy tool of the United States for many years. This tool provides a happy medium between diplomatic talks and military action, which means economic sanctions are the best of both worlds, theoretically. Theoretically is a word frequently used to describe economic sanctions and their effects, because they work, but only in theory.

The premise of economic sanctions is countries refuse to buy goods or services from another country because they want to see a change in the targeted country. According to the Congressional Research Service, economic sanctions are “coercive economic measures taken against one or more countries to force a change in policies, or at least to demonstrate a country’s opinion about the other’s policies.” The intent of cutting off trade is to cause the economy of the target country to sky-rocket and result in either the leader of the country fixing the problem or the people of the country revolting against the leadership and forcing the change.

For a cinematic comparison, think of Universal Studios’ “Big Fat Liar.” Marty Wolfe (Paul Giamatti) acts as the bully, so in this case he would be Iran (or Iraq, Libya, China, Cuba, take your pick). When Jason Shepherd (Frankie Muniz) grows tired of Marty’s mistreatment of others, Jason decides he is going to get back at him by cutting off his resources. So Jason would be the US and Kaylee (Amanda Bynes) is, let’s say, Great Britain. Jason and his friend Kaylee take away Marty’s professional appearance, his day planner and even the people who work for him. Essentially, they strangle Marty’s ability to do wrong by removing his resources. Or, as Janis Ian in Paramount Picture’s “Mean Girls” says, “How do you overthrow a dictator? You cut off her resources.”

At least, that’s what economic sanctions are designed to do. In reality, they are more harmful than beneficial. Though this is characteristic of economic sanctions in general, the current sanctions on Iran exemplify the inefficiency of this foreign policy tool.

The issue is rooted in the fact that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. In response, the U.S. and other countries enacted economic sanctions on Iran, including an embargo on oil. Thus far, the sanctions have worked to the effect that it has caused the economy of Iran to inflate. But that is it. The sanctions have not forced either President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei to allow any other countries to see records of nuclear activity or limit the amount of nuclear materials Iran possesses.

In a New York Times article from Feb. 7, a senior official involved in the strategy of Iran was quoted saying, “the people may be suffering in Iran, but the supreme leader isn’t, and he’s the only one that counts.” And the people are facing hard times. According to a Gallup poll released this month, 56 percent of Iranians say the sanctions have hurt their livelihood “a great deal.” However, 63 percent of Iranian adults still said they believe the nuclear program should continue. Thus, the hope that the sanctions will cause the people to revolt and force a change is nearly non-existent. In short, neither the leaders nor the people seem to give any indication that the nuclear program is going to change or that Iran is going to succumb to any of the requests. Instead, the people of Iran themselves are facing hardships with no benefits or successful results.

Thus, the economic sanctions on Iran are not efficient. But, more than that, they are actually becoming detrimental to the U.S. The citizens of Iran are not holding the Iranian government responsible for the harm that has been done. Rather, they blame the U.S. In the same Gallup poll, 47 percent of Iranian adults said they hold the U.S. mostly responsible for the sanctions. This is compared to the mere 10 percent who say it is because of the Iranian government. These sanctions are only encouraging the people of Iran to think of the U.S. more and more as an enemy rather than as an ally.

Recently, the U.S. has adjusted the sanctions to try to increase their efficiency. Possibly the biggest reason economic sanctions do not have the desired effect is because the sanctions are not all-inclusive. Target countries can easily sell embargoed goods to other countries. For instance, Iran is trading oil with China and India. While these trades may be unfavorable, they are still an option that decreases the damage on the economy. So, the U.S. decided to implement a law that any country trading with Iran is expected to pay with money that cannot be spent in Iran. This new law is designed to keep money out of circulation in the Iranian economy.  Any violations would result in being denied access to the US banking system. Again, this may be a great idea, theoretically. The same article from “The New York Times” states that “as a political matter it is difficult to imagine [this law] ever being enforced.”

With regards to foreign policy, the U.S. has several options, with economic sanctions wedged somewhere in the middle. But economic sanctions do not work. They cause pain to the wrong people, they do not put enough pressure on leaders and they can even cause adverse reactions to the country implementing them. They are ineffective.

Ineffective: a word that should be frequently used to describe economic sanctions.

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One Comment

  1. Peter Shaplen

    February 13, 2013 at 11:10 PM

    Sanctions are problematic, sometimes but not always ineffective, and often rely on a far larger scale of cooperation on a global sphere. I would point out that apartheid was largely ended as a result of sanctions – both in trade as well as opportunity. Sanctions in Iran are thwarted by the French and Russians, to name just 2 countries, who do not subscribe to the world (UN) view and instead continue a lucrative trading partnership with Iran to the benefit of their economies. It may be too simple and reflect an impatience to say that sanctions have failed. While they may not yet have yielded the desired result (depending on whose side you’re looking at), the alternatives are far worse. Diplomacy is the art of protracted negotiation and compromise. It is a practice for old men and women. Politics is the sport of short term goals and interests, often by those who are impatient and seek to force their outcome at any expense. A nuclear Iran is a frightening concept but one that the world might well have to accept, just as other nations have gained admission to the nuclear clubhouse. What’s more important for Iran and its leaders is the opportunity to trade, to govern, to live responsibly in the region. Will sanctions achieve that result? What else do we have?


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