Home/Daniel Larison/Applying ‘Maximum Pressure’ in a Pandemic Is Sick

Applying ‘Maximum Pressure’ in a Pandemic Is Sick

Spencer Ackerman reports on the deleterious effects of sanctions on the Iranian people as they face the coronavirus outbreak:

“We are not safe in any place until everyone all over the world is safe,” Paul Anatharajah Tambyah, the president of the Asia-Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection, told the Wall Street Journal about a new wave of COVID-19 cases in east Asia.

“You have to facilitate these medical goods. Anyone who argues otherwise, or does otherwise, is a sociopath or a moron,” [bold mine-DL] said Jarrett Blanc, a former State Department official who monitored Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal that the Trump administration abandoned. “The U.S. should be busting its ass to make sure permissible medical exports are available to Iran. It’s in our self-interest.”

There is a ghoulish fanaticism at work in the “maximum pressure” campaign that treats the health and lives of innocent Iranians as expendable in service to the cause of destabilizing and bringing down their government. Iran hawks often like to compare their obsession with toppling the regime with Reagan’s policy towards the Soviet Union, but the difference between what they are doing now and how Reagan responded could not be more stark. When there was a devastating earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the U.S. provided considerable aid to help the victims of that disaster. Even the Bush administration was willing to airlift assistance to Iran after the Bam earthquake in 2003. The coronavirus pandemic is an even more serious emergency if the worst-case estimates are to be believed, so the U.S. willingness to assist Iran should be commensurately greater, but instead of relief and aid the administration offers more punishment and empty rhetoric. As Blanc says, helping Iran through this crisis is also in our own interest. Helping other countries to bring the outbreak under control is the right thing to do, but if that is not reason enough we should realize that it is also helping to protect ourselves.

Ackerman also spoke to Hooman Majd:

“It really is immoral,” he continued. “If we’re asking our own people to take care of our fellow human beings by not going to restaurants, not going to movies, and by suspending our lives, can’t we suspend the sanctions, even if you don’t want to lift them?”

The “maximum pressure” campaign is unjust, but to continue it in the midst of a public health disaster is truly sick and twisted. The administration’s refusal to offer sanctions relief at a time like this shows how irrational and malevolent this policy is, and it should make us all realize how senseless and destructive the economic war has been from the start.

Tyler Cullis condemned the recent administration move to impose even more sanctions:

Not only is the Trump administration’s policy to Iran wrongheaded and ignorant, it is also fundamentally immoral — and nowhere has this been more clear than in the present crisis. Holding an entire people hostage in the moment of their deepest crisis is what the most thuggish of regimes do the world over. Yet that is the policy Secretary Pompeo advances towards Iran today.

Pompeo’s recent sanctions announcement expressed the Trump administration’s contempt for the Iranian people. Reagan’s message in 1988 could not have been more different:

Those of you who answered the appeal for help, who have assisted in the relief effort, and those who flew to the Soviet Union and sifted through the rubble, searching for life against all odds, carried with you a message from America. It was a message of peace. You conveyed what was truly a universal message, one for us all to remember at this time of year: that every life is infinitely precious, a gift from God [bold mine-DL]. So, whatever language we speak, whatever country we may live in, whatever our race or religious faith, we’re all one people on this Earth. And in times of suffering, in the face of natural disaster, we’re drawn by our common humanity to help one another, to join in a great brotherhood of man.

There are few things that should make us more aware of our common humanity than a pandemic that threatens all of us, and we ought to be doing whatever we can to help Iranians and all other nations suffering from this disaster. At the very least, our government shouldn’t be waging a cruel economic war on tens of millions of innocents in service to some decades-old vendetta, and it should lift all sanctions to give the people of Iran a better chance to prevail against this threat.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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