As the drumbeat for military action against Iran
grows louder, some members of Congress are calling to expand the long-standing
U.S. trade ban that bars American companies from investing in that nation. In
fact, many war hawks in Washington are pushing for a comprehensive international
embargo against Iran. The international response has been lukewarm, however,
because the world needs Iranian oil. But we cannot underestimate the irrational,
almost manic desire of some neoconservatives to attack Iran one way or another,
even if it means crippling a major source of oil and destabilizing the worldwide
Make no mistake about it: Economic sanctions are acts of aggression. Sanctions
increase poverty and misery among the very poorest inhabitants of targeted nations,
and they breed tremendous resentment against those imposing them. But they rarely
hurt the political and economic elites responsible for angering American leaders
in the first place.
In fact, few government policies are as destructive to our economy as
While embargoes sound like strong, punitive action, in reality they represent
a failed policy that four decades of experience prove doesn't work. Conversely,
economic engagement is perhaps the single most effective tool in tearing down
dictatorships and spreading the message of liberty.
It is important to note that economic engagement is not the same thing as foreign
aid. Foreign aid, which should be abolished immediately, involves the U.S. government
spending American tax dollars to prop up other nations.
Embargoes only hurt the innocent of a targeted country. While it may be difficult
for the leader of an embargoed nation to get a box of American-grown rice, he
will get it one way or another. For the poor peasant in the remote section of
his country, however, the food will be unavailable.
It is difficult to understand how denying access to food, medicine, and other
products benefits anyone. Embargo advocates claim that denying people access
to our products somehow creates opposition to the despised leader. The reality,
though, is that hostilities are more firmly directed at America.
Father Robert Sirico, a Paulist priest, wrote in the Wall Street Journal
that trade relations "strengthen people's loyalties to each other and weaken
government power." To imagine that we somehow can spread the message of liberty
to an oppressed nation by denying them access to our people and the bounty of
our prosperity is contorted at best.
For more than 30 years, we have embargoed Cuba in an attempt to drive Fidel
Castro from power. Yet he remains in power. By contrast, look at the Soviet
Union, a nation we allowed our producers to engage economically. Of course,
the Soviet Union has collapsed.
Embargoes greatly harm our citizens. As the American agricultural industry
continues to develop new technology to reduce costs and increase yields, it
becomes more important for farmers and ranchers to find markets outside the
United States to sell their goods so they can make ends meet. By preventing
our farmers and ranchers from competing in the world market, we deny them very
Government meddling is always destructive to the free market; people inevitably
will make wiser decisions about how to spend their money, with whom, and when,
than politicians in Washington. Embargoes simply do not accomplish the ends
advocates claim to desire, and are extremely harmful to the well-being of Americans.