Mohammad Ali Shabani, based in Tehran, has written an important piece at al Jazeera on the effect of the US-led international sanctions on Iran. He opens by describing a man named Hassan who is suffering from cancer but cannot get the medicine needed to fight it. His family was “told that there was a shortage of many foreign drugs because of the sanctions, even though the West’s punitive measures don’t directly target supplies such as medicines.”
The sanctions are a form of overt coercion aimed at crippling Iran’s economy. Targeted most at the banking and oil sectors, Iranians are slipping into an economic depression. Unemployment is rising and inflation is spiraling out of control. “Prices of fruit and sugar, among other staples, have soared – in some cases showing threefold and fourfold increases,” writes Saeed Kamali Dehghan in the Guardian. “The price of meat, an essential ingredient of Iranian food, has gone up to such an extent that many now eat it only on special occasions.”
Listening to congressional supporters of sanctions, you’d think the sole reason is a sadistic urge to harm innocent Iranians. As one of the top supporters of sanctions, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), said, “Critics [of the sanctions] argued that these measures will hurt the Iranian people. Quite frankly, we need to do just that.” Or take Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY): “The goal … is to inflict crippling, unendurable economic pain over there. Iran’s banking sector — especially its central bank — needs to become the financial equivalent of Chernobyl: radioactive, dangerous and most of all, empty.”
As effective as these measures may be in harming ordinary Iranians and cutting the revenue of the Iranian regime, they are completely ineffective in changing the behavior or make-up of the regime (the interventionists’ stated goal).
“In Tehran, the dominant perception is that the aim of the sanctions is to create pressure from below so the leadership will back down on the nuclear issue,” writes Shabani. Well, they are pretty much correct. The Washington Post published an article in January quoting a top US official as saying the purpose of the sanctions was to “create hate and discontent at the street level so that the Iranian leaders realize that they need to change their ways.”
But it doesn’t work out that way in practice. Political scientist Robert Pape examined 115 cases of economic sanctions over almost 80 years and found only five that could be considered successful (that is, the sanctioned nation changed policy in the direction desired by the sanctioners). That is a horrible track record.
“The Iranian government is unlikely to buckle due to Western pressure. And it is even less likely to back down in the face of domestic pressure,” writes Shabani. “Iranian politicians’ ability to successfully deflect blame for their shortcomings at the West should not be underestimated.” And Dehghan too: “Of course, supporters of sanctions might argue that some suffering now would be justified if it stops what they assume is the threat of a nuclear Iran. What they don’t realise is that sanctions are ruining people’s lives and not forcing Iranian leaders to change their minds.”
And forget about fomenting revolution. Imperialists in Washington have criticized Obama for not having got behind the 2009 Green Movement uprising in Iran, arguing that movement is our chance to support regime change. But Dehghan says the sanctions are sapping the energy of the Green Movement and helping to block its access to technology. Shabani cites a Gallup poll carried out earlier this year which showed that almost half of Iranians at times during the past year didn’t have enough money to buy food for their families and that Iranians said “Western leaders need to monitor the unintended effects sanctions may have on Iranians’ lives.”
Iranians blame the West for their economic woes. Not the regime.
The Obama administration knows full well how ineffective sanctions are. They are doing it anyways, largely for domestic political consumption, to satisfy pressures from Israel, AIPAC, and Congress and avoid Obama being painted as a wussy. This is an election year, after all. This translates literally to Obama making ordinary Iranians suffer so that the can get reelected. That’s just about the most savage thing a political leader can do.