the conventional weapons in the arsenal of the modern Warfare
State, none is crueler or more indiscriminate than economic
sanctions. While a bomb, missile, or other military ordnance
can devastate an entire neighborhood in a moment, the slow
death of economic strangulation can so degrade an entire people
that they are reduced to a pre-civilizational state, modern
savages living at a subsistence level.
psychological and spiritual degeneration is nothing less than
a war crime, a "crime against humanity." In our century, the
U.S. has instigated and led, often alone, the practice of
starving foreign nations. It was crystallized in Woodrow Wilson's
theory that sanctions are a "peaceful, silent, deadly remedy"
against recalcitrant foreigners that replace the "need for
sanctions, like conscription, are marks of total war. It involves
whole civilian populations on both sides and deprives them
of their essential rights to liberty and property. The soldiers'
wars of old, writes Ludwig von Mises, were shorter and less
destructive because armies fought it out among themselves,
leaving civilian populations alone. Even during the American
Revolution, historian Josef Dorfman notes, "trading with the
enemy" was common. War strategists figured trade was the best
way of compensating civilians on both sides for the economic
damage of war.
represent the opposite of a just war: from wars that only
involved soldiers, we have moved to wars that only involve
civilians. The concept of economic sanctions as a weapon also
assumes international economic regulations and enforcement
agencies, setting up a cadre of bureaucrats who sit in judgment
of "outlaw nations": in effect, the apparatus of world economic
planners. And contrary to Wilson's predictions, real war has
often followed the use of sanctions.
long-run consequences of economic sanctions on a nation such
as Iraq, for example, will far outweigh the more obvious damage
done by a U.S. bombing campaign. UN enforcer Richard Butler
cast the dispute as a test of wills with broad importance.
As the Washington Post reported it, Iraq is "a test
case for international efforts to guarantee a more civilized
life.'" What is being tested is a method of mass murder, comparable
in scope to the famine unleashed by Stalin against several
million kulaks. After six years of a near-total economic embargo,
the once thriving Iraqi middle class has ceased to exist,
and a country once proud of its modernity is being dragged
down into the lowest rungs of the Third World.
than one-third of Iraqi children are malnourished, on a level
with sub-Saharan Africa. In the name of "international peace,"
more than one million Iraqis have died as a direct result
of the sanctions, 567,000 of them children. Some 4,500 children
under age five are dying each month from hunger and disease.
Condemned by U.S. and UN planners to a starvation diet, little
children have suffered a six-fold mortality rate increase
since the onset of sanctions.
lack of spare parts has crippled not only the transportation
system, but also led to the complete breakdown of vital water
and sanitation services (already singled out for bombing during
Bush's war). Diseases not seen in Iraq for many years, such
as cholera, are reaching epidemic proportions. Hospitals are
desperately short of supplies: if two operations are scheduled
on one day, and there is only enough anesthetic for one, then
the other must go without. This is what it means to revert
response to growing international outrage, especially in the
Arab world, the UN high command, against U.S. complaints,
grudgingly allowed Iraq to sell some oil on the international
market in order to buy emergency supplies. The so-called food
basket 25 cents per day per person does not include animal
protein, vitamins or minerals: no meat, fish, poultry, fruits,
or vegetables may be imported.
exterminationist policy is the logical consequence of a mindset
that equates the people of a nation with its government, and
therefore punishes the former for the crimes (both real and
imagined) of the latter. In the calculus of power, individuals
do not count: there are no Iraqis, only the nation of Iraq.
The fundamental indifference to justice of the collectivist
mentality is underscored by a policy that refuses to distinguish
between Saddam and his victims.
growing meanness of everyday life, and the gradual descent
of Iraqi society into a Hobbesian war of all against all,
benefits no one but Saddam. He can point to the U.S. and the
West as the source of Iraq's growing misery, and hold himself
up as the heroic champion of Iraqi independence and who among
the emaciated and war-weary Iraqi populace, will have the
strength, either physical or psychological, to contradict
Hussein is not the only strongman who benefits from the imposition
of economic sanctions: Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and Cuba's
Fidel Castro are also depicted in their official propaganda
organs as intransigent foes of Western hegemonism.
Cuban people have suffered an economic embargo imposed by
the United States, and the results, if less dramatic than
in Iraq, have had the same political effect. Economic sanctions
confer on Saddam, Fidel, and "Slobo" Milosevic a legitimacy
that might otherwise be cast into doubt: as the people starve,
they are amenable to the proposition that the main enemy is
not at home, but in Washington, D.C.
a strange way, the policy of economic sanctions underscores
the absurdity of autarky, the economic doctrine that insists
on the superiority of products made in the home country. The
policy of these autarkists is protectionism: its advocates
seek to "protect" native industries from "unfair" foreign
competition, and invoke the alleged existence of a so-called
"balance of trade," which is put out of whack every time someone
buys an imported good.
autarkist doctrine, that a nation must be "self-sufficient"
lest it submit to the "economic coercion" of other nations who
will then blackmail it into submission is being put into
full and consistent operation in Iraq. Although its people
are starving, Iraq's "balance of trade" is in balance, and
evil foreign competition has been brought under control. After
all, Iraq's "native" industries are free to flourish, minus
all that cutthroat competition from abroad. In Iraq, under
economic sanctions, we can see the end result of the protectionist
propaganda leading up to the first Gulf War was centered around
the alleged strategic and economic necessity of access to
cheap and plentiful oil. But the embargo against Iraq, which
prevents that country from selling its ample oil supplies
on the international market, drives oil prices higher than
they would otherwise be. Now the ideal of free trade with
all nations an ideal celebrated by the framers seems further
off than ever, and every month or two, the policy elites who
otherwise swear fealty to free trade, discover another worthy
candidate to target with this cruel policy.
whether higher oil prices are a deliberate result of U.S.
government policy, or merely an accident, is a job for a journalist
or an economic historian with an inside knowledge. We can,
however, ask a key question: qui bono? Who benefits?
Only governments and their connected interest groups. To avoid
such open conspiracies was the purpose of the framers' vision
of commercial relations with the entire world, but policy
entanglements with none.