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The Moral Abomination of Sanctions

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A recent New York Times op-ed entitled Pinched and Griping in Iran by Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof shows how differently statists think in comparison to us libertarians, especially when it comes to foreign policy and moral principles.

Kristof is traveling in Iran and reporting on his experiences in the country. In his article, he focuses on the horrible economic effects of the sanctions that the U.S. government has imposed on Iran.

While U.S. officials sometimes like to claim that their sanctions target foreign government officials, nothing could be further from the truth. Kristof carefully documents how the Iranian people are bearing the brunt of the sanctions. He writes:

Largely because of Western sanctions, factories are closing, workers are losing their jobs, trade is faltering and prices are surging. This is devastating to the average Iranian’s pocketbook – and pride.

To be blunt, sanctions are succeeding as intended: They are inflicting prodigious economic pain on Iranians and are generating discontent.

Kristof then goes on to provide specific examples of people who are suffering the effects of the sanctions.

Kristof says, “I regret this suffering, and let’s be clear that sanctions are hurting ordinary Iranians more than senior officials. I’m also appalled that the West blocks sales of airline parts, thus risking crashes of civilian aircraft.”

Apparently, Kristof is unaware that the sanctions have already caused civilian planes to crash in Iran, as I detailed in my 2010 article “Another ‘Success’ Story from U.S. Sanctions.

But Kristof’s apparent lack of knowledge of those plane crashes is not the worst of it. The worst part of his article, the part that reflects the skewed moral compass of statists everywhere, is that notwithstanding the horrible harm that the sanctions are doing to the Iranian citizenry, Kristof says they should be continued nonetheless.

What’s his reasoning? He sees the suffering inflicted by the sanctions on the Iranian people as a way to squeeze the Iranian government into complying with U.S. dictates or to reduce its power. Kristof bluntly writes: “Yet, with apologies to the many wonderful Iranians who showered me with hospitality, I favor sanctions because I don’t see any other way to pressure the regime on the nuclear issue or ease its grip on power.”

Apparently, Kristof’s fantasy is that anger among the Iranian citizenry will scare the Iranian government into complying with the dictates of U.S. officials. Perhaps Kristof even fantasizes about a coup that brings a pro-U.S. regime into power, like the one that the CIA engineered in 1953, which installed the brutal pro-U.S. regime of the Shah of Iran into power.

Kristof’s position reminds me of the infamous statement that U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright made when asked about the U.S. sanctions against Iraq. The sanctions on Iraq, like those in Iran, were squeezing the economic lifeblood out of the Iraqi people. Things got so bad that newborn babies and small children were dying from the harsh effects of the sanctions.

What was Albright’s reaction to all that death and suffering among Iraqi families? In essence, it was remarkably similar to that of Kristof. Leslie Stahl of 60 Minutes said to Albright, “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, this is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded, “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”

So, yes, maybe millions of Iranians will lose their life’s savings from the sanctions. Why, if things get bad enough, they might also suffer a high child mortality rate too. And, yes, maybe hundreds of Iranians, adults and children, might die in plane crashes as a result of the sanctions.

But, you see, in the minds of the statist, it’s all worth it because it increases the likelihood that Iranian officials will get so scared of their citizenry that they will comply with the dictates of U.S. officials or, even better, peacefully relinquish power to a pro-U.S. regime.

Surely Kristof recognizes that such hoped-for scenarios oftentimes don’t pan out. In Iraq, the sanctions continued for 11 brutal years, bringing death, impoverishment, and suffering to the Iraqi people, year after year. It finally took the post-9/11 U.S. military invasion of Iraq, one based on deceptive premises, to finally achieve the regime change that the sanctions were intended to produce.

Moreover, while some of the anger and frustration from the Iraqi sanctions might have been directed toward the Iraqi regime, it ultimately boiled over with terrorist strikes against the United States with the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the attack on the USS Cole, the attacks on the U.S. embassies in East Africa, and, worst of all, the 9/11 attacks.

What will Nicholas Kristof say if a few Iranian families who have lost everything, including money and children, as a result of the sanctions come over to the United States and retaliate with a massive terrorist strike? My hunch is that in such an event, Kristof will immediately take the standard statist line, “The terrorist strike has nothing to do with the sanctions on Iran. These terrorists just hate us for our freedom and values.”

The U.S. sanctions against Iran are a moral abomination, just as they were against Iraq and just as they are against Cuba and just as they are against every other country in the world. In actuality, they are an act of war, one that is waged against the civilian population of another country. They target the innocent in the hope that the citizenry will influence the direction of their government. They are the perfect embodiment of the adage, “The end justifies the means.” And they produce the continuous climate of terrorist retaliation, which, not so coincidentally, is used to justify ever-increasing budgets for the military and the CIA and ever-increasing infringements on the freedom and privacy of the American people.

There is only one moral answer to the likes of Nicholas Kristof and his statist ilk, and, not surprisingly, that answer comes from us libertarians: Lift all U.S. sanctions against every country in the world and liberate the American people to freely travel wherever they want and freely trade with whomever they wish.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.