What are the different opinions about the sanctions on Iran? Salam Toronto has started asking this question from Iranian and non-Iranian residents of the GTA. Here you read the first part of this series.
President Obama said in his State of the Union Address that the sanctions will deprive the Iranian government of the necessary financial means to continue with their nuclear program. It is also known that plans are already in place to deny Iran access to the international banking system. The western powers hope that these measures will eventually convince Iran to abandon their nuclear ambitions and rejoin the family of nations. Whether Iran’s nuclear program is legitimate or not is another question, but the sanctions themselves are counter-productive and may have opposite results.
History of sanctions in recent years should make us think twice. Sanctions have always hit hardest not the government but the people themselves. In Iraq, for example, years of sanctions by the west have caused thousands of deaths, many of them women and children. (Sanctions rarely take into account the people first.) The effect on the policy of the ruling elite, however, was negligible. In fact, there is evidence that sanctions solidified government’s power because of the weakened condition of the populace. If there is any hope on the part of western powers to encourage popular uprisings among the Iranian people against their government, sanctions are not the way to do it. Over time, sanctions punish the people severely. It is known that many, if not most, of the people in Iran would welcome a more democratic form of government. By punishing those who support democracy, therefore, the western governments are pushing the people, who would inevitably become unhappy with the effects of the sanctions, into the bosom of the Iranian government. Sanctions may in fact achieve the exact opposite of what was intended.
Furthermore, past sanctions have tended to be a prelude to military action. This is troublesome. Is the same scenario about to be re-enacted in Iran? As I said, the purpose of sanctions is to weaken the people and the institutional structures within the country. Once done, the country becomes an easy target for military intervention. If there is a military attack, under Obama it will not be a unilateral venture. As in Libya, it will be a cooperative effort among NATO partners, and the results will be devastating for the people of Iran. Sanctions invariably victimize the people.
My hope is that sanity will ultimately prevail on both sides. For the western powers, it is time for a larger perspective, patient understanding and undiminished diplomacy. The root cause of Iranian mistrust is our clandestine behavior in recent history, the evident failure of our banking system and the subsequent economic instability. Our engagement in the Middle East has been driven by greed. That has to change, and we must always put the people of Iran first. For the Iranian government, on the other hand, it is time for more openness that comes from confidence: change and resoluteness are not mutually exclusive.