Peter Beinart makes a good case that broad sanctions regimes are immoral and destructive:
Why are policies that have proved so ineffective and immoral so hard to undo? Because abandoning them would require admitting hard truths: North Korea will not abandon its nuclear weapons. Iran will remain a regional power. Mr. Assad, Mr. Maduro and the Communist government in Havana aren’t going anywhere. America’s leaders would rather punish already brutalized populations than concede the limits of American power.
Like other forms of open-ended, desultory warfare, broad sanctions that affect entire countries need to be brought to an end. Just as we repudiate military attacks on civilian targets, we need to renounce economic warfare whose main and sometimes only victims are innocent civilians. The U.S. has enormous power to damage the economies of other countries, but exercising this power by strangling tens of millions of people with sanctions is inherently abusive and wrong. Pointing to the economic wreckage that sanctions create, as sanctions advocates often do, is akin to boasting about committing indiscriminate bombing of cities. As Beinart says, sanctions typically don’t achieve the goals that their supporters seek, but the more important point is that we cannot justify the means of impoverishing and starving people by pointing to the ends that these cruel policies might serve.
The US does need to recognize the limits of its power, but more than that it needs to recognize that there are some things that it has no right to demand even if it might be able to coerce another government into doing it. The fundamental error of the “maximum pressure” campaigns that have been waged against Iran and Venezuela, among others, is that it is taken for granted that the US has the right to dictate their internal and external policies. Our government does not have that right, and it never did. When a government is presented with such extreme ultimatums that threaten its independence or even its survival, it is always going to dig in and refuse to give any ground. Sanctions cannot possibly achieve such maximalist ends, and by pursuing such ends the US makes a mockery of its past commitments to respecting the independence and sovereignty of other countries.