Monday, February 15, 2010

I Have a Good Idea: Economic Sanctions!

As many of you are aware, leading Iranian government officials have opted to use their four-year break between vote-rigging efforts to attempt to develop nuclear "power plants of peace" which have absolutely nothing to do with a purely hypothetical desire to develop nuclear weapons (after all, why would a country with American troops occupying its eastern and western neighbors want nuclear weapons?). Recently, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has gone so far as to publicly call on Iran's nuclear agency to enrich Iran's uranium to "a high enough grade to piss off the West, but not high enough to break any international laws...yet" by year's end.

This is, of course, concerning to top American politicians, who believe that the time between elections is best spent calling each other "stupidhead." Hilary Clinton, along with her foreign policy assistant Barack Obama, have recently publicly called for stronger economic sanctions against bad guys in Iran and their families.

Apparently, the administration is hoping that just as tough economic sanctions convinced North Korea to leave the "Axis of Evil" and start acting more like the Carebear of the Far East, just as tough economic sanctions on Iraq convinced Saddam Hussein to mend his ways and avoid getting his country invaded, just as tough economic sanctions restored peace and prosperity to Zimbabwe after the worst of the Robert Mugabe years, and just as crippling sanctions forced Fidel Castro to acknowledge the inherent inferiority of communism and relinquish power long ago, sanctions will fix all our problems with Iran.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad agrees that tough sanctions are the safest course for Iranian stability. "People are getting tired of me here" he said in a recent open letter to Western diplomats, "I really need the West to take aggressive action so I have someone to blame all our problems on. Can I get some help here?"

Ahmadinejad: "Can't you see I'm hurting for a scapegoat?"

Clinton: "Hang in there, Mahmoud, help is on the way!"


  1. Haha, well said! But what's the real solution?

  2. You have a good point, have sanctions ever worked?

  3. Nickolas,

    Sanctions did work against South Africa to help end apartheid, but probably largely because South Africa felt like part of the Western world that was sanctioning it, and not like an enemy. It probably also mattered that South Africa was a minority democracy: rule was by whites in general, not just a leading cadre of politians.

    I don't know of any other examples in which economic sanctions have been effective. It seems clear that sanctioning your enemies mostly strengthens their resolve and sanctioning authoriatarians only makes their people suffer.

    I would love to hear other examples of effective economic sanctions if anyone knows of any.

  4. Stephen,

    That is the multimillion dollar question. I wish I had an answer.

    I do place a certain amount of hope in the potential influence of a sizeable, well-educated middle class, many of whom are increasingly alienated from the regime. It's important to note that group includes many clerics and bureaucrats inside the government as well as citizens on the streets. Maybe, left to their own devices, they can slowly create a path to change. I worry, though, that if we interfere too much, they'll get labeled as sellouts to the decadent West instead of patriotic Iranians who want their Republic run more honestly.

    That said: who knows if they have a chance? And the possibility of a nuclear Iran is genuinely alarming--even if it's probably more distant than Ahmadinejad would like us to believe.

    What can you do to somehow contain Iranian leadership without making the fight spill over onto the people? That's the question I'd like solutions to start with. But it's one we haven't asked much over the last 31 years of sanctions on, threats against, and free weapons for the neighbors of, Iran.

  5. In this article by the strategic studies institute

    the author describes how economic sanctions forced Japan into a culturally insupportable dilemma. Given their lack of resources, they could either roll over and give up their cultural dream of becoming a world power, or they could fight a semi-suicidal war against a much larger, much better-supplied opponent, the US.

    In order to preserve their honor, they decided that sanctions were an act of war, and began preparing to attack the US.

    I really like the conclusion the author draws, which is that we need to understand the culture of the other country in order to be able to persuade them in culturally acceptable terms to stop what they are doing.

    In other words, the secret to negotiation with Iran lies in the people of Iran, and the way they see the world. Somehow we have to understand and connect with that if we want to be able to speak to them in a way they will hear.

  6. The conflict in question above was WWII.

  7. For a cultural understanding of why Iranians aren't so fond of the US or Britain, look up Mohammed Mossadegh, and see how we replaced Iran's first serious democratic leader with a megalomaniacal autocrat.

    Clearly, a key part of Iran's strategy is to try to paint opposition figures as tools of the West, while pointing out Western opposition to "peaceful nuclear activities" as clear evidence of the regime's success in protecting the nation's interests from the depredations of imperialist powers.

    This keeps sanctions OR support to opposition groups from being an effective strategy to oppose the regime.

    I recommend a new strategy: the West should commend Iranian nuclear ambitions and vote-rigging, and point to them as clear steps towards becoming part of the Western Imperialist club-- this would destroy the regime's street cred with average Iranians, and allow the opposition to become the true representatives of anti-imperialism.

    Come on Mr. President: It looks like Ahmadinejad needs a friend. Be that friend. It will destroy him and the regime for which he is an oh-so-attractive frontman.

  8. Sorry, that was a bit strident of me.

    I don't mean to sound like a revolutionary propagandist, it just happens.

  9. Yeah...that happens to the best of us.

  10. Maybe we could offer the sort of government aid that allows the federal government to involve itself with activities that originally were relegated to state governments. Grants that come with strings attached.

    For example, we could offer to enrich their uranium if they allowed us to build missile defenses on their soil. Or McDonald's and Walmart.

  11. Haha! We actually DID offer something like that. The offer was that European nations would refine uranium up to fuel grade and send it back, keeping refinement technology and possible subsequent military-grade refinement out of Iran.

    Unfortunately, the issue Mossadegh was deposed over was his fight against dependence on British oil refineries. Mossadegh wanted energy independence in oil-rich Iran; Britain didn't want to lose its control of key refineries--armed foreign intervention ensued.

    So, Iran isn't going for the whole send-the-uranium-out and stay dependent on the West thing.

  12. I agree with Stephen and James that if the sanctions go through in the way that the U.S. wants them to that it will ultimately be the Iranian people--and maybe some others--who suffer.
    If the U.S. succeeds in getting Russia and China (Iran's two biggest trade partners)to stop doing business with Iran--which is the hope of many in Washington--the ecconomy will only get worse and the Iranian people will suffer more. I guess the hope is that the Iranian leaders will cave with their economy getting worse and worse and finally beg the West to pull them out. Ha. I really would like to hear why anyone thinks that Iranian leaders would, at this stage of the game, ask the West for help in getting back on the ecconomical map, or any other map for that matter.
    If the U.S. expects to get anywhere in this conflict its leaders had better start growing beards. I'm not saying that this would solve the problems, but it is unquestionably a necessary first step. There is no way Iranian leaders can respect Baby-Face Barak. I really think that Hillary Clinton should lead the way in this matter.
    Of course, the U.S. should wait to make sure that the enriching of all that Urainium doesn't make the hair of Iran's leaders' beards fall out fromt the radiation first. Though I still think it is safe for Hillary to grow one. If nothing else, she would just be expanding her resume for her post-political circus career.

  13. Is a post-political circus career a career in the circus after one in politics? Or any career you happen to choose after working in a political circus?

    Either way, I definitely endorse the Hilary Clinton beard idea. We should make a facebook group or something, "I bet we can find 1,000,000 people who wish Hilary Clinton would grow a beard."

  14. It's a circus career in a world that is done with politics.:) Well, of course in that world, there may not be much room for a freak show. Okay, so let's say it's a circus career after retiring from a political-cirus.

  15. "Cirus" was supposed to be "Circus". It totally ruins the joke to mis-spell things. Ah, well, story of my life.


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