Watch now (8 mins) | Our call this week will be at our regular time, Friday at Noon EST. Our guest will be Fida Jiryis, author of the new memoir Stranger in My Own Land: Palestine, Israel and One Family's Story of Home, about what happened when her father, who had been exiled from Israel-Palestine in the 1970s for his work with the PLO, brought the family back after the Oslo Accords. Here are two
Yes, that's very much in the background for me too
Thank you, Virginia. I appreciate it.
I resonate to this discussion as it brings up for me the sanctions waged against Iraq in the lead up to the second war. Please read Tom Nagy's "Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities" to get a deeper understanding of the impact of sanctions on civilian populations. As a direct result of these UN/US sanctions 535,000 children died 'in excess of expected' due to water contamination and lack of acces to vaccinations and ant-biotic treatment. Just sit with that for a moment...and then begin to think of how many children are dying now in Syria.
Thank-you, Peter, once again for not allowing us to 'look the other way'!
Thank you so much. This is so important. It is a delicate surgery that is treated far too dualistically and without wisdom and stealth. So appreciate the way you put things into words and your heart for humanity. Thanks again for speaking up. Well said. (Again!!)
Bravo for a thoughtful reflection on sanctions. Your two key points are fundamental: (1) taking both the views of those affected, and (2) evaluating the actual likely results. As someone who campaigned for sanctions against white Rhodesia and then apartheid South Africa between 1965 and 1990, and been involved in the debate about US sanctions on Zimbabwe, I strongly agree that the default position in most cases should be not the scale of the evil, but "it depends.) See http://www.africafocus.org/editor/aa1988.pdf on Ian Smith's Rhodesia and http://www.africafocus.org/editor/zim2010.php on Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe.
So Peter, if you oppose sanctions on regimes like Syria and North Korea, and I assume as a good leftist you also oppose military action against those regimes as well, what's your solution for handling regimes like that? Do nothing?
"Cuba, or North Korea, or Venezuela, these are very, very ugly regimes..." based on what the corporate media tells us. Or, from the British Medical Journal (that hotbed of socialist propaganda)
"Why Cuba developed its own Covid vaccine—and what happened next
Rather than negotiating with pharmaceutical giants or the Covax vaccine sharing initiative, Cuba bet everything on its prestigious biotech sector coming up with its own vaccine against covid-19. And though the gamble has been shrouded in mystery and met with scepticism, it could be paying off.
For periods of 2020, while the surrounding region recorded more covid-19 deaths per million population than any other, the island remained almost free of infection. Only 11 863 infections and 146 deaths were recorded in its ageing 11 million population—equivalent to 13 deaths per million people. The UK recorded 1084 deaths per million for the same period.
Cuba’s success has been attributed to its aggressive testing, tracing, and isolating (Tetris) programme, spearheaded by doctors. Cuba has more physicians per head than anywhere else in the world and dispatched 2000 of them abroad to stabilise collapsing hospitals in countries like Italy.5
But the army of healthcare professionals also played a vital role at home. Doctors, nurses, and medical students were sent door to door, advising the public on coronavirus symptoms and searching for possible infections. Those with confirmed coronavirus infections were sent to state run isolation centres to cut transmission chains.
Cuba plans to share its vaccines with the rest of the region, much of which continues to face vaccine shortages and large outbreaks. Argentina, Mexico, and Jamaica are among those discussing potential deals, as is Vietnam."
What a truly ugly regime, compared to the generosity of the US government... to the pharmaceutical industry's executives and shareholders. Or the UK government, now openly giving away our National Health Service to healthcare corporations.
Sanctions are a "damned if you do damned if you don't" method of involving the U.S. in the affairs of other countries. The U.S. may have a security interest ( or a humanitarian one) that requires levying sanctions but there will always be innocent civilians who suffer because of them. It's similar to military action that inevitably causes collateral damage with the death of innocents. Treading lightly is probably the best policy in dealing with international relations because you never know when the local population will turn on the U.S. for interfering in their affairs. Sanctions may have worked in South Africa but that was a long time ago and there was a government in power that, while initially zealous in wanting to maintain the status quo, wasn't as demented and depraved as the "governments" in Syria or North Korea. There are no easy answers and on a daily basis we see how cruel and depressing the world can be and how limited more free peoples are in making the world a better place.
Sanctions are the empty “virtue signaling”-equivalent of the foreign policy tool kit. Historically they have very little to no impact curbing policies of the impacted governments they are targeting, but they allow the US policymakers responsible for them to strut around for domestic consumptive purposes using the existence of those sanctions as a sign of how “tough” they are and as a statement of disapproval of said governments.
US sanctions on Cuba, for example, do nothing to curb the communist government’s authoritarianism, but do stroke the erogenous zones of a certain right-wing US voting constituency in South Florida. That’s the only reason why they continue to exist at all.
Another problem with sanctions is their selectivity in inconsistency of application. It’s just another tool of US power projection bereft of any unifying moral principle. The US sanctions odious governments like in Venezuela, but did not, say, sanction the Philippines government whose former leader Duterte had a similar body count as Maduro of human right abuses and extrajudicial killings. We sanction Iran, but not Saudi Arabia or Egypt. The Egyptian military in fact has actively been on the US payroll of up to $1B /yr since 1979 Camp David Accords even though it runs contrary to US law after that same military deposed, jailed, and later executed the democratically-elected Morsi in 2013-2014 in a coup d’etat. So not only do we not sanction Egypt, we ignore US law on the books and have continued subsidizing the government.
That sanctions generally often do materially impact the poor and suffering of those countries would only be relevant if US policymakers could possibly care less about them—all the while saying domestically that the sanctions are done in the name of promoting freedom and the interests of those downtrodden. It’s all a farce.
Well, we might disagree on how well such countries as Cuba and Venezuela "look after their own populations", that is in their actual governmental policies and actions as distinct from their rhetoric; Cuba is a dysfunctional dictatorship as is Venezuela although it is also a kleptocracy. We would have no disagreement that the USA and UK have had a long history of being "bad actors" on the international scene, with one result being that every time they take a stand on human rights, they can be justly accused of being monumental hypocrites for not having followed their own ostensible precepts and preaching to others. That charge of hypocrisy, however, is usually used as a "get out of jail free" card to excuse, diminish, deny horrible things that these countries themselves do, countries such as China, Russia, and, yes, Cuba and Venezuela.
Like the readers below, I too thought that this was an excellent piece, saying what needs to be said about how sanctions against certain "bad actor" countries so often just pile on the miseries for the civilians of those countries without actually modifying the behaviour of the leaders of those countries who can often escape the effects of the sanctions. The sanctions against Iraq, described by Lorraine Nagy, below, are an excellent example. None of this stuff is easy or intuitive -- how to change the behaviour of evil regimes without going to war -- but dealing with humanitarian catastrophes, swiftly and as efficiently as one can, must take precedence over punishing regimes, when such events take place (as in the case today of Syria and Turkey).