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Dumb and dumber
New sanctions will achieve nothing, but...

July 18, 2000
The Iranian

News that Congressman Brad Sherman of California is proposing new sanctions against Iran comes as no surprise. He's a politician. He listens to his ouraged Jewish constituents and powerful pro-Israeli lobbyists who are furious about the conviction of 10 Iranian Jews as Israeli spies.

Sherman will have the support of dozens of other lawmakers. In fact it is almost certain that on voting day, not a single member of the House of Representatives or the Senate will oppose reversing President Clinton's decision to lift the ban on the sale of caviar, pistachios and carpets.

American lawmakers often do not think strategically. They do not necessarily care about long-term U.S. interests. And they certainly do not care about violations of human rights in every corner of the planet, especially not when it involves a U.S. ally, such as Israel (brutality against Palestinians), Turkey (widespread oppression against Kurds) or Saudi Arabia (zero tolerance for any form of domestic opposition).

Sherman and his congressional colleagues know that unilateral economic sanctions have never worked against any country. Any expert would tell you that banning the sale of Iranian agricultural products and handicrafts in the U.S. will not put any significant pressure on the Islamic Republic.

But sanctions have always been a convenient political weapon; one that does not cause any serious injury but makes a really big sound. So when elections come along, Sherman and other politicians will say, "Look! We imposed sanctions on the big bad Iranian government." And most voters will be impressed. Will anyone ask, Well, did these sanctions achieve ANYTHING? No.

The Islamic Republic is not any worse than Communist China. Increased trade between the West and Peking has and will improve human rights conditions and spread democratic values. The more China engages with the international community, the more it has to conform with international standards of behavior at home and abroad. Same can be true about Iran.

But for this simple argument to win in Congress, you need a massive, concerted effort. You need lobbyists. You need an army of determined volunteers. You need an active Iranian-American leadership who can see the big picture, who has long-term vision. What we do have amounts to almost nothing. Sending a thousand or even ten thousand emails to members of Congress is not going have a serious impact.

And let's not forget Iran's own responsibility in all this. Congressman Sherman's ideas for punishing Iran are absurd. They won't hurt Iran one bit. It's political opportunism. But if the Iranian Jews had been tried fairly, if the prosecutor was not also acting as the judge in the case, if international observers had been allowed to monitor the proceedings, if the sentencing had been just, then Sherman and others like him would not have had a chance to make a fuss.

The bottom line is that the trial in Shiraz at the very least gave the impression of being unfair. We will never know for sure if those convicted of spying did actually spy or endanger Iran's national security. But it would be fair to say that if there was any hard evidence of spying, the Iranian authorities would have shown it to the whole world without the slightest hesitation. But the flimsy allegations presented in court were far from convincing.

No one can expect American lawmakers to be fair and sympathetic toward a state that has been so unfair and cruel toward its own people. To make matters worse, Iran's leader still refers to the U.S. as the Great Satan and blames every genuine eruption of discontent on Washington and its "lackeys".

Extremists in both countries are feeding each other. And the result will be more suffering for the people of Iran, including the minorities Congressmen Sherman supposedly wants to help.

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