For decades, U.S. administrations, both Republican and Democrat, and every session of Congress have imposed sanctions on a wide array of nations. The reasons are plenty – a regime may refuse to comply with American interests, neocons may encourage leaders to apply sanctions or a foreign government may choose to adopt a different set of economic measures a la Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.
Late last month, President Donald Trump signed bipartisan legislation that applies a series of sanctions against Russia, North Korea, and Iran. It was so overwhelmingly supported by Democrats and Republicans that it eliminated the president’s ability to veto the bill. Even Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a staunch critic of an interventionist foreign policy, favored the bill.
Why were these nations given new sanctions? Russia apparently hacked the 2016 election; North Korea continues to be a petulant child in East Asia, and Iran is not scraping the floor, bowing to Washington. The sanctions are either being slapped on government officials or on the country itself, which doesn’t do anyone much good.
In the end, there is only one party in the federal government today: The War Party. Both the R’s and D’s may differ on transgendered washrooms and across-the-board tax cuts, but when it comes to war – Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya – they always seem to agree.
Many may argue that this type of economic punishment is preferable to launching a full-scale invasion of foreign land. Unfortunately, as we have often witnessed throughout modern history, sanctions are the overture toward an oratorio of conflict.
The concept of economic sanctions was first developed by former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who argued that they were a “peaceful, silent, deadly remedy” against disobedient entities. In other words, if the U.S. government found you unruly or difficult you could find your nation to be economically isolated.
Even the Founding Fathers understood the importance of trade since they often bargained with the enemy during the American Revolution.
As Darius Shahtahmasebi wrote for The Ron Paul Institute for Freedom & Prosperity, the negative consequences of sanctions can be traced back to just before World War II. He writes:
Sanctions are always a prelude to war. Though few are aware, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was arguably in response to America’s attempt to cripple Japan’s booming economy through embargos and asset freezes, ending Japan’s commercial relationship with the United States and provoking the desperation that led to their attack.
In the 1990s, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton implemented sanctions against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, a man who was first put in his leadership position thanks to the CIA. Once he started veering away from his puppet status, the invasion occurred. During this time, Libya also bared the brunt of this economic methodology, which later led to an invasion. In 2004, President George W. Bush did the same against Syria – and we all know that putting boots on the ground there is inevitable. Iran has seen numerous sanctions for the last twenty years – and, again, some type of military strike is foreseeable.
One of the concerns about this type of economic punishment is that it prevents both sides from conversing.
Liberty Nation’s Jeff Charles opined last month:
Sanctions are largely seen as ineffective — especially when used against countries like North Korea and Russia. … American diplomats will not have the leverage they might need to influence the nation that has been targeted by the sanctions.
Another issue is that it establishes resentment among the people of those nations being hit with trade penalties. The citizenry may detest their dictators and oppressive tyrants, but if they’re unable to gain access to food and water because of sanctions imposed by the West, then why would they welcome a foreign body?
We saw this in Iraq.
The U.S. economic reprimand against Iraq targeted civilian infrastructure; Iraqis did not have clean water, there was a paucity of medical supplies, widespread malnutrition, and breakouts of multiple diseases. What did then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright think of the estimated 1.7 million dead Iraqi civilians? She told “60 Minutes” in 1996, “It was worth it.” No wonder there was such antipathy and violence against coalition forces during the Iraq War.
And now we have North Korea and Russia on the receiving end of this fruitless policy. Despite claims of Russia meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, Russia has been the victim of aggression: NATO encroachment of the Russian border, U.S. missiles in the region and the overthrowing of a democratically-elected government right next door. Now Moscow needs to contend with even more sanctions.
Meanwhile, one of the unintended consequences of this type of action — in addition to the U.S. flying bombers over its air space — is that North Korea is acting in a confrontational manner. Whether it was Kim Jong-il or Kim Jong-un, the dictatorship of North Korea isn’t showing off its nuclear arsenal or making threats for kicks. It is doing it out of self-preservation.
Rather than talking and trading, the U.S. administrations resort to one measure: sanctions and threats.
Last year, then-President Barack Obama warned Pyongyang that the U.S. “could destroy you”:
We could, obviously, destroy North Korea with our arsenals.
No one will ever forget President Trump’s dire warning of “fire and fury.” This is why one could make the argument that former NBA superstar Dennis Rodman has done more for U.S.-North Korea relations than any other past administration. He is talking to the totalitarian oppressor, he is showing the fruits of the West, and he is the highlighting the benefits of markets – this is perhaps why North Korea has been more open to private enterprise than ever before.
If Trump went to Pyongyang tomorrow, sat down with Kim Jong-un and talked about trading with one another and ending this ridiculous nuclear standoff, relations would immediately be improved. Unfortunately, since the president is surrounded by war-starved generals, this likely will never take place. It’s a shame.
Thus, this is the result of useless economic sanctions, isolationism and policing of the world.
Going back to the early 20th century, if President Wilson really wanted a “peaceful, silent, deadly remedy” to fight against odious regimes, recalcitrant states and malevolent leaders then talking, trading and traveling is a much better alternative. It’s time to cease worshiping the original neocon and adopt a Jeffersonian attitude to foreign policy.