This week, I’ll be writing a series on Groundswell covering some of the many reasons why we must ramp up our efforts to oppose sanctions. Click here to read Reason #1: They won’t work.
Yesterday I wrote about opposing sanctions against Iran because they won’t have their intended effect of changing the Iranian’s regime behavior. Another important point that many members of Congress ignore is that they are also likely to have the opposite effect of empowering the current regime, both economically and politically.
The Iranian government has already benefited from the creation of a “sanctions economy” in Iran, as Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council notes:
Wherever sanctions are imposed, a “sanctions economy” emerges in which entities reap a profit from smuggling sanctioned goods. In the Iranian case, this has benefited the Iranian government in two ways. Absent competition from international companies and the demands for transparency and efficiency that accompany outside investments, state controlled industries have become insulated through the protection that sanctions have provided. As a result, sanctions have strengthened the hardline elements’ hold and control over the economy, which in turn has strengthened their grip on power.
Secondly, entities connected to the government, such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, have profited from their involvement in the smuggling trade that has emerged, further benefitting from Iran’s economic isolation.
As Jacob Weisberg of Slate notes, there are much more appealing alternatives:
Tyrants seem to understand how to capitalize on the law of unintended consequences. In many cases, as in Iraq under the oil-for-food program, sanctions themselves afford opportunities for plunder and corruption that can help clever despots shore up their position. Some dictators also thrive on the political loneliness we inflict and in some cases appear to seek more of it from us…
Constructive engagement, which often sounds like lame cover for business interests, tends to lead to better outcomes than sanctions. Trade prompts economic growth and human interaction, which raises a society’s expectations, which in turn prompts political dissatisfaction and opposition. Trade, tourism, cultural exchange, and participation in international institutions all serve to erode the legitimacy of repressive regimes.
Not only would the regime ensure that their own gas tanks would be full, they also see political benefits from the threats and hostility, and possible economic pain, caused by the United States. Under intense domestic pressure, the current regime is desperate to establish its legitimacy. They are holding show trials for protesters and coercing confessions from activists, forcing them to admit they are fomenting revolution on behalf of the west. The regime welcomes any distraction from the current political unrest, especially when it can be used to encourage anger and distrust towards the US.
The Iranian regime has taken advantage of any hint of western interference, and the US Congress bringing down a “sword of Damocles” on Iran provides fodder to help the regime elevate its role in protecting Iran from threats from the west, both externally and internally, and provides excuses for them to crack down on internal dissent.
Tomorrow, I will pick up here to discuss why these sanctions will hurt the very people the US government supposedly wants to help.