The Art of Sanctions is the title of a book by the American official Richard Nephew, just appointed by Biden to handle Iran.
The book is about how, on Obama's orders, he made the Iranians poor.
In 2007, according to Nephew, US espionage organizations had concluded that Iran no longer had a nuclear weapons project. Obama's main purpose was to suppress the country as a regional power in his area. The nuclear threat was important in order to get the EU powers and the Asian oil importers to sanctions.
Between 2012 and 2014, the value in dollars of Iran's GDP was reduced by 30 percent, through financial blockade and crushing of the country's currency. Nephew says that imports of luxury and consumer goods, which ordinary people now could not afford to buy, were allowed to increase the pressure on the Iranian government with greater inequality.
The book is intended as a handbook for "developing a strategy to accurately, methodically and effectively increase pain in the areas that are vulnerable and avoid those that are not". It is reminiscent of the CIA's torture manual from the Bush era.
Nephew does not deny that sanctions are intended to torment others, but he is a "smart" liberal and not a monster." Adding a sanction to pain is pure sadism if it is not linked to an expectation of what the pain may cause."
Diplomatically wrapped up, he concludes in a final analysis that US and EU sanctions against Russia for the annexation of Crimea can hardly be linked to the expectation that Russia will abandon Crimea. The US sanctions against Nordstream II, an underwater gas pipeline between Russia and Germany that no one else is really involved in, are also an example of what Nephew could call "pure sadism".
The desire to torment other peoples in the name of morality and humanity is a strange phenomenon. In the discussion on human rights, the issue has been avoided.
Modern liberal foreign policy has two typical expressions: "humanitarian" bombings and invasions and "sanctions". Both are North Atlantic, Euro-American specialties, mainly applied south.
The survival of moral politics is in fact dependent on hypocrisy.
The bombing of Serbia in 1999 was an exception. The invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Libya follow the pattern. The sanctions are of two kinds, partly those aimed at individuals, institutions and companies, partly those that are likely to harm an entire people, primarily its economy.
The US government agency for controlling foreign assets has a list of "special" people, who are not allowed to deal with Americans and whose assets are to be "blocked". It is a list of 1,536 pages with three columns, which is supplemented by a number of special lists, for example of Palestinian members of parliament from Hamas.
The individual sanctions are directed at individuals and organizations who are held responsible for immoral acts. The accuracy of the assessments can be discussed on a case-by-case basis, but the principle of moral responsibility to humanity is a normative step forward - despite the constant, power-driven one-sidedness in application, ever since Nuremberg.
The popular sanctions are actually the economic wars of large rich countries against the less well-off, without the risk of losses for the aggressor. The US Treasury Department claims to have 36 "active sanctions programs", 22 of which are aimed at nations, the rest at transnational crime and other unwanted international activities. The EU has an even longer list of sanctions programs, most of which concern nations, but many EU programs are focused on individuals plus a national arms embargo.
Common to the "humanitarian" bombings and invasions as well as to the sanctions is a self-righteous moralizing over international relations and a division of the world between evil and good, where we and our bombs and blockades obviously belong to the latter. American politicians have a deep-seated self-image as leaders of God's chosen people. Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the United States "the indispensable nation." EU ideologues have succeeded in instilling a similar, more secularized self-perception in themselves and in EU politics.
Self-righteous moral politics are not necessarily worse than cynical real politics. But it has an inherent tendency to limitless destructiveness, as we can see in the belt of destruction and mass graves with more than a million killed, from Afghanistan to Libya, achieved with the best intentions of humanity and democracy.
The survival of moral politics is in fact dependent on hypocrisy. For example, the United States' alliance with the oil-rich, pre-democratic Arab monarchies, where there have never been any human rights. What has not been noticed, and which the people's sanctions highlight, is the cruelty of liberal foreign policy.
The national sanctions create suffering, poverty and misery for an entire people, in Albright's "indispensable" nations. The current (under Biden) total sanctions against the economies of Iranians, Cubans, North Koreans and Venezuelansis similar to attempted economic genocide. The intention is to destroy their business.
It rarely succeeds completely. Cubans have survived the American whip for 60 years. But the measures are effective. The increased sanctions against Venezuela in 2017 led to an increase in mortality of just over 40,000 people. In 2019–2020, the country's GDP decreased by 60 percent. By 2020, the government had one percent of the revenues from before the sanctions war. The UN Special Rapporteur for 2020 was able to state a steadily increase in malnutrition, and that all attempts to use seized state assets in England to buy epidemic protective equipment and vaccines via the UN have failed.
According to current US policy, Syria will remain a heap of ruins. No American or foreign person may "enter into a reconstruction contract in areas controlled by the Syrian government". The EU confines itself to banning participation in the reconstruction of the electricity grid.
Both the US and the EU ban trade in and support for Syria's oil and gas, while the US and its Kurdish allies occupy Syria's most important oil fields. The new sanctions against China as a nation aim to push back the country's technological development.
Where does moralizing sadism come from? One source is probably a kind of political fundamentalism. Where the rest of us see people; children, adults, the elderly, women and men, the sanction warriors see only caricatures of political enemies who have to "pay a price", as Biden usually puts it.
Another foundation is a religious view of man that divides humanity between us, the chosen people, and all others; sinners, unfaithful, heretics, lost. In Protestant fundamentalism, from which today's North Atlantic liberal foreign policy draws its fire, there is a sadistic vein. To torment someone is also to cleanse him / her from sin. Many of today's foreign politicians are related to Bishop Vergérus in Bergman's Fanny and Alexander.
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