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The Humanitarian Toll of the Economic War on Iran

Ahmad Jalalpour reports on the deteriorating conditions inside Iran created by U.S. sanctions:

Even though the official inflation rate stands at 41 percent, inflation for foodstuffs is running at 74 percent. In addition, the rent for housing units increased last year by more than 95 percent in Iran’s major cities. Meanwhile, the government has proposed raising wages by a meager 15 percent this coming fiscal year. This yawning discrepancy between wages and the cost of living has led to a catastrophic drop in living standards across the board, but especially for the more than 60 percent of the population categorized as poor or in the lower income brackets.

The plight of those sliding into the category known as “absolute poverty” is even more tragic. According to the Iranian Parliament’s Research Center, in fiscal year 2016–17 (calculated in the Iranian calendar), 16 percent of the population lived in absolute poverty, defined as living on or less than $1.08 a day. In 2017–18, the figure increased by an average of 30 percent. That figure must have risen even higher in the past year. [bold mine-DL] This means at least another 10 percent of the population has fallen into absolute poverty in just two years.

Iran sanctions have had a devastating effect on tens of millions of ordinary Iranians, and Jalalpour’s report is the latest to confirm how much harm sanctions are doing to the civilian population. U.S. economic warfare is an attack on innocent people in a vain bid to compel their government to do what Washington wants, and the only thing it is good for is making lots of people poorer and causing the sick and vulnerable to die for lack of proper treatment and medicine. We know that the supposed humanitarian exemptions don’t work in practice when no one in Iran can make necessary payments to bring in essential goods. The purpose of these sanctions has been to target and hurt the Iranian people as much as possible on the assumption that by causing them sufficient misery and hardship the people will do the regime changers’ work for them. Like everything else Iran hawks believe about Iran, this isn’t happening. Sanctions are impoverishing and killing people for nothing.

It is common now for many observers to point out that “maximum pressure” hasn’t achieved anything anywhere, but what often gets left out in these discussions is how much senseless destruction economic warfare is causing. Our government is committed to an Iran policy of collective punishment against an entire nation in which causing destruction is the point. The effect on public health in Iran has been severe:

The public health situation is particularly shocking, warranting immediate action by the international community. Technically, medicine and medical supplies are exempted from US sanctions. However, sanctions on Iranian banks as well as on all forms of financial transactions have meant that even if Iran were to buy imported items with its now-meager petrodollars, it can no longer reimburse importers for their sales. Of course, the government can resort to clandestine means to do so, but the purchased items in that case would be far more expensiveThe end result is the same: It is as if there is a near-total sanction placed on medicine and medical supplies for Iran.

While Iran produces many drugs domestically, on average some 40 percent of chemicals used in the ingredients are imported. That may not seem like a terribly high figure, except that even with just 2 percent of its chemicals missing or tainted, a drug is usually rendered practically useless. This means that the government must either devote its dwindling foreign exchange income to buying from international suppliers at much higher rates, or else use shoddy sources instead. Both options have been disastrous. The first has led to severe scarcity and black markets, while the second has led to a shocking toll in human lives and general health.

Jalalpour’s report is consistent with everything we have been seeing and hearing from other reports over the last year and a half. There is no shortage of accurate information about what sanctions are doing to the Iranian people, but the victims of the economic war our government wages on them are mostly invisible to Americans. We almost never hear about the thousands of Iranian cancer patients that died last year because sanctions deprived them of the medicine they needed, and so there is little or no urgency here to put a stop to this monstrous policy.

Jalalpour continues:

Doctors in Iran’s hospitals tell countless horror stories about making do with fewer drugs, fewer spare parts for their medical equipment, and a much larger pool of people with serious medical conditions. “It really seems like I’m in a field hospital in a war zone at times,” said a surgeon working in a midsize town in southwestern Iran. “We have daily quotas of how much anesthesia we can administer each day. At the same time, there are days when you just can’t turn away many patients. So what do you do? You become creative and do a lot of praying.” According to this surgeon, it is not unusual at his hospital for an ob-gyn to perform a C-section delivery with localized anesthesia.

Sanctions are an aggressive measure that a much more powerful government uses to hurt a weaker country, but the politicians and policymakers that support them rarely have to answer for the destruction that they cause. Sanctions allow interventionists to wage war on other countries without having to acknowledge what they are doing, and that frees them from the scrutiny and unpopularity that come with military intervention. The next administration has to halt the economic war and end this policy of collective punishment. Every day that the economic war continues, our government will be responsible for the lives ruined and ended because of these sanctions.

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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