Sanctions are not the peaceful alternative to war but, as we have seen in Cuba and Iraq, are in fact a very real and very hostile policy that leads to the hardship and even deaths of ordinary people in the target countries whilst leaving the elites relatively untouched.
As with Cuba, Iraq and Zimbabwe there is very little evidence that sanctions produce progressive change in the countries targeted, but rather the evidence suggests sanctions allow those regimes to tighten their grip, entrenching them in power rather than strengthening democratic forces or enabling positive reforms.
The sanctions have given the Iranian regime a powerful tool that helps it solidify its hold. Where poverty or injustice takes place they can be laid at the door of sanctions and the influence of powerful, foreign enemies rather than the state. The sanctions are seen as a proxy war, furthering the aims of hostile states, rather than being a movement from below seeking solidarity with progressive voices in Iran.
Just as in Palestine where goods are being blocked on the pretence that they could be used for building military infrastructure the repercussions can be devastating - the same construction materials that could be used to erect a bunker are those that are vitally needed to rebuild hospitals and schools. Those parts that could be essential in building nuclear plants in Iran are also essential components in medical equipment, manufacturing and safety devices, for example in aviation.
The regime can smuggle enough goods into the country to use in their nuclear programme if they so choose to, but sanctions have inevitably harmed the health service, job creation and the quality of life of those the West claims common cause with. Sanctions must end if we are to truly hold out a helping hand to those worst effected by the policies of the Iranian regime.
They must also end if we are to seek a normalisation of politics in the Middle East as whole. Far from being a soft tool of diplomacy the sanctions act as a weapon to punish those states who are critical of US foreign policy and serve as an example to those nations that might step out of line in the future. As such the Iranian people are caught in a vice between the aggressive policies of the West and the oppressive nature of their regime at home.
The likelihood of a direct military invasion has significantly lessened since the glory days of George W Bush but that does not mean that US policy has suddenly become the friend of the Iranian people. It also does not mean that the threat of targeted attacks, possibly from Israel, have gone away either. Whilst it's very positive that the US has broken it's thirty year refusal to talk directly to the regime the concrete policies of sanctions and cold war have yet to shift.
Obama is indicating there is a space to create a new openness and we should take that opportunity to push for a lifting of sanctions that do nothing but hurt the poorest Iranians and strengthen their enemy at home. There's nothing wrong with cautious optimism but it's a signal to seize the time rather than a moment to sit back and hope things will turn out for the best.
If we care about creating a space for religious freedom in Iranian, for instance, then we need to remove the regime's trump card - that they are a country in danger and under siege and are forced to repress internal dissent. Whilst France, Germany and the UK are proposing new, harder sanctions they shore up the regime against democratic reform.
Those in favour of sanctions are pushing the failed policies of a new imperialism under the guise of criticism of the reactionary aspects the Iranian state. What they cannot do is demonstrate how sanctions produce positive change nor how they hinder the elites rather than murder the poorest.
- Hands off the People of Iran
- Young Iranian woman describes the effect of sanctions on her and her friends.
- Iran has no weapons grade uranium says US
- John McDonnell describes why he's opposed to sanctions on Iran (video)
Monday March 16 2009
With Jenny Jones AM, John McDonnell MP and Yassamine Mather.
House of Commons, Committee Room 6, 6pm, all welcome.