Dumb and dumber
New sanctions will achieve nothing, but...
July 18, 2000
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
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.