The same destructive effects of U.S. sanctions that were addressed then are thus far being ignored in the current tensions with Iran.
“We are seeing quite the opposite now, including the denial of the problem. The administration is actually discouraging people from using this legitimate channel,” Richard Nephew, the lead sanctions expert during the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran and currently adjunct professor of international and public affairs at Columbia, told me.
The administration’s position on this has been to say that it is not their responsibility. Brian Hook infamously said, “The burden is not on the U.S. to identify the safe channels.” The Trump administration knows that the problem exists, but refuses to do anything about it because they can’t be bothered to make the effort. When our allies have sought guidance on how to facilitate humanitarian trade, the administration has ignored them:
The Europeans have repeatedly warned the US administration that a proactive policy was necessary to avoid such a situation because of the foreseeable over compliance of the banks to the sanctions. To no avail. https://t.co/gBjJ64BAjS
— Gérard Araud (@GerardAraud) August 21, 2019
The stated goal of the policy is to force Iran to make a wide range of concessions, but in practice the policy seems aimed primarily at inflicting as much pain as possible on the assumption that this will lead to the government’s surrender or collapse. When U.S. officials talk about the sanctions “working,” they point to the economic damage that they are doing. They emphasize the damage from sanctions as proof of “success” because for them destruction is the point of the policy. There isn’t any concern that innocent Iranians are being ground under the wheel of sanctions because inflicting collective punishment is exactly what they want to do.
Trump’s Iran advisers constantly claim that they are on the side of the Iranian people and that the goal of the United States is to improve their lives. So far, however, only the opposite has been true.
Worsening the lives of the Iranian people is the only thing that a relentless economic war could have done. Strangling the economy of an entire country will always hurt the people, and it will hurt the weakest and most vulnerable worst of all. The Trump administration will feign interest in the welfare of the people when they can use it to attack Iran’s government, but their lack of concern for Iranians’ well-being has been clear for some time. They value Iranian people only insofar as they can enlist them in their vain pursuit of regime change, and otherwise view them as expendable. Our government’s Iran policy is a disgrace and a moral failure, and the next administration needs to move quickly to halt the economic war that is killing innocent people for nothing.