“The sanctions are hurting innocent Iranians?”
“Sanctions will not dissuade Iran from developing their nuclear program.”
This has been the narrative of the Huffington Post (indeed this was no surprise – see my blog post and the research report conducted on Iran-related HuffPost reporting) and throughout much of the Western media in the last week.
M.J. Rosenberg, noted in his typically naïve piece of commentary that:
“The bottom line then is that neither sanctions nor war can succeed. That leaves one option that is never considered: unconditional diplomacy.”
His headline, “No to Sanctions, No to War”, should really read: “Dear Islamic Republic of Iran, ignore the IAEA, ignore the welfare of your own citizens, and keep those centrifuges spinning!” Ok, so the second headline is almost as ridiculous as the one that actually appeared.
Professor Rajan Menon – in the same publication – was not to be outdone. Like Rosenberg, he also cannot understand why the Iranians and the West are not sitting down and compromising on this issue. Despite rounds of failed talks, as well as continued Iranian concealment and deception, Menon and Rosenberg cling desperately to the diplomatic channel.
Like many of his fellow pundits, Professor Menon jumped firmly on the NYT bandwagon to paint the Iranians as the moderate diplomats, ready to talk. He, like many of his colleagues, hastily pointed out that:
“By contrast, Iran has proposed a series of steps, the last of which would be putting activity at the Fordow facility on hold. But it wants sanctions to be eased at the outset and to be lifted fully before it moves on Fordow…”
The Iranian economy is a mess, this is no secret. The sanctions have undoubtedly contributed to the deteriorating state of the Islamic Republic’s finances. Yet instead of asking sensible questions, certain elements of the Western media continue to play an apologetic role for the Iranian regime. These are the questions that should have been asked but were not…
– Why, when your economy is facing a crisis do you continue to invest in Assad’s murder machine in Syria?
– Why, when your economy is facing a crisis do you continue to supply weapons to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah?
– But perhaps most logically; why, when the sanctions are all related to your nuclear program… why, don’t you stop spinning and start talking (as opposed to spinning while talking)? Why don’t you stop concealing? Why don’t you open up? Why don’t you “prove the world (and the IAEA) wrong?” These commentators are correct to talk about “collective punishment”, yes, the Iranian regime continues to punish an entire nation in order to continue concealing its nuclear program; ‘rational’.
The Daily Telegraph’s Colin Freeman has a more nuanced view of what sanctions are as a diplomatic tool:
“What struck me last week, though, was the statement of the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, highlighting the fact that the sanctions are hitting ordinary Iranians rather than the political elite. “The sanctions have had significant effects on the general population, including an escalation in inflation, a rise in commodities and energy costs, an increase in the rate of unemployment and a shortage of necessary items, including medicine,” he said in a report.
At the risk of sounding callous, isn’t that the entire point? Diplomats are fond of talking about sanctions only being aimed at hurting a country’s elite. But it has been pretty clear from the experience in Iraq, Burma and elsewhere, that sanctions targeted against named individuals don’t do much beyond stopping them travelling abroad or holding foreign bank accounts.”
He goes on to note that:
“Saddam Hussein and his family, for example, never stopped living in obscene luxury during a decade of sanctions on Iraq. Nor have sanctions ever much cramped the style of Burma’s golf playing generals, or Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF clan.”
“Iran’s leaders are no different in this respect – and in any case, the real hardliners claim to actively welcome hardship, saying a bit of righteous suffering makes for a pious soul. The only way to make them change their behaviour, therefore, is to put the country’s own people in such dire straits that they rise up and challenge the regime.”
India’s economic times, is skeptical about the sanctions’ efficacy. But at least this author manages to attribute the blame to the Iranian regime, noting that a poor economy at this particular point in time will only contribute to the ousting of President Ahmedinejad, who is out of favor with the ‘Supreme Leader’:
“Don’t be fooled into thinking that the pain of the population could change Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s mind about their nuclear programme… In fact, Khamenei, according to sources, is looking forward to the elections next year when he wants Ahmedinejad replaced.”
The report goes on to note that:
“The regime seems undeterred. Quite apart from the nuclear programme, Iran’s full-throttle support to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is adding to the nation’s burden, particularly as the Syrian conflict descends into a sectarian one, where Iran will be up against Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey who are funding and arming the rebel fighters.”
Director of the London Middle Eastern Institute, Hassan Hakimian, focuses on undermining the underlying logic that “if sanctions are hurting, they must be working”. Noting that this “overlooks a number of important issues”. He then rolls out the traditional arguments against sanctions as a diplomatic tool. Perhaps, however, the most telling of his reasons for the fallacy of sanctions that:
“The cost-benefit rationale overlooks the fact that ideologue regimes like Iran tend to have a high pain threshold and may be willing to take a big hit against their population without yielding in their international stance. Despite growing economic pain, there seems as yet no overriding reason why the Iranian regime might back down on its nuclear stance.”
Hakimian, unintentionally, shifts the blame for the “growing economic pain” back onto the Iranian regime. Their cost-benefit rationale is slanted, disproportionate, and puts their opaque nuclear program above the economic wellbeing of their citizens.
In fact… As is pointed out in the Diplomat,
“It is Khamenei’s politicization of the nuclear program which has hurt his regime the most. He does not permit deviation from, or open debate about, the official line on the direction of the program. Khamenei has taken what is essentially a nationalistic project that enjoyed widespread consensus and turned it into a divisive issue. Khamenei’s Siyasat Bazee with the nuclear program has weakened the regime and crippled its performance in the face of economic challenges.”
It is Colin Freeman though, who again, hits the nail on the head with his closing statement in his Daily Telegraph piece:
Should Barack Obama not be making another historic address to the Iranian people, like the one he did in 2009? Should he not be telling them that they are at an historic crossroads – either have a nuclear bomb and a completely ruined economy, or abandon the nuclear programme and look forward to prosperity? Surely, making the Iranian people as aware of the stakes as we are in the West would be a help – Persian Spring or not.
This is the message our ‘responsible media’ should be bringing to their readers. The oppressive regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been enforcing collective punishment on its own citizens for decades now. No matter how much we try and blame ourselves in the Western media, the Mullah’s irresponsible decision to continue investing in their controversial (and still partly concealed!) nuclear program instead of the economic wellbeing of their own people should come as no surprise.
By the way, just in case you missed it: the UN report quoted this past week regarding the effect of sanctions on Iranians was actually about human rights! But since the media chose mostly to focus on only two of its 56 clauses – missing the tragedy that unfolds in some very difficult reading – feel free to retrieve it here