Sunday 16th of May 2021

when peace is difficult for the jokers in gotham...

no war

What in the world is going through the mind of Donald Trump? That question might have been asked at any time in any place over the past five years, yet it has special weight today, given that it involves matters of war and peace.

First there was this, from the New York Times on Monday:

President Trump asked senior advisers in an Oval Office meeting on Thursday whether he had options to take action against Iran’s main nuclear site in the coming weeks. The meeting occurred a day after international inspectors reported a significant increase in the country’s stockpile of nuclear material, four current and former U.S. officials said on Monday.

A range of senior advisers dissuaded the president from moving ahead with a military strike. The advisers — including Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Christopher C. Miller, the acting defense secretary; and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — warned that a strike against Iran’s facilities could easily escalate into a broader conflict in the last weeks of Mr. Trump’s presidency.

Just when you think you’ve got Trump’s foreign policy figured out, you’re leaning on Mike Pompeo to stop the bombs from flying. Trump, of course, has always exempted Iran from any restraint he might show in the Middle East. The likely site of his proposed strike, Iran’s Natanz facility, has beefed up its uranium stockpile significantly since the president pulled out of the nuclear deal back in 2018. In other words, Trump himself provoked the very threat he now itches to address. Escalations beget further escalations. How many times must the old realist adage be vindicated?

The tub-thumping towards Iran makes even less sense when paired with this:

President Trump is expected to order the U.S. military to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia by the time he leaves office in January, using the end of his time in power to significantly pull back American forces from far-flung conflicts around the world.

On its own, this isn’t especially surprising. The United States earlier this year negotiated a deal with the Taliban to remove its troop presence from Afghanistan. Iraq, too, has been on the president’s downsizing list, and the parliament in Baghdad back in January voted out our military entirely. The Pentagon has also been drawing down Special Operations troops in Africa, as Trump pounds the table for a full Somalia pullout. All this is in keeping with his expressed contempt for pointless Middle East wars as well as the desire among some in the establishment to at last achieve the chimeric pivot to Asia.

Still, a broader and accelerated withdrawal in the lame-duck period is nothing if not ambitious. So why the schizophrenia? Why at the same time that we’re drawing down are we on the cusp of a war with Iran?

Some on the left have posited that Trump is a kind of pan-national Joker, wanting only to create chaos, to watch the world burn on his way out. But that seems too cute by half.

First, with regard to Iran, my guess is that Trump has been talking to his dear friend Bibi Netanyahu. That isn’t fever-swamp leering at Israel: the Times notes that in 2008, “Israeli officials, concerned that the incoming Obama administration would seek to block it from striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, sought bunker-busting bombs, bombers and intelligence assistance from the United States for an Israeli-led strike.” Bush turned Tel Aviv down (!), opting instead for a cyber-attack, and today, Netanyahu faces a similar situation. Joe Biden has pledged to reenter the nuclear deal with Iran and take a less maximalist position towards Tehran. It makes sense Israel would want to do whatever damage it can before that comes to pass. And Netanyahu is surely well aware that Trump has a habit of listening to the last person in his ear.

Second, the fact remains that Trump isn’t going anywhere. Whether he launches his Trump TV network (which I imagine as a kind of love-child between One America and QVC) or mounts another presidential run in 2024, politics is his family business now. And for Trump, politics has always been a covenant between himself and his customers, his voters. They elect him; he delivers what they want. And he’s all too aware that one of his most distinctive promises, bringing the troops home, has been largely slow-walked. Hence the deal with the Taliban; hence the sudden pullout from Germany, with spiting Angela Merkel only a nice bonus.

Of course, here at TAC, we support the withdrawals and oppose the attempted Iran war. Such predictability is no doubt why none of us are making the calls in this seething Gotham we call America. The truth is that Trump isn’t the Joker; he’s the isolationist we deserve if not the one we need right now. And if he can pull off these latest withdrawals without leveling Iran in the process, he’ll get credit even from me.



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Please note that the uranium in Iran ISN'T weapon grade but nuclear power grade.

the world is a cactus...


the missiles are coming...

Over five years ago we titled "Are missiles returning to Comiso? (Sicily)." [1] This hypothesis was ignored by the entire political spectrum and dismissed by some self-styled expert as "alarmist." The alarm, unfortunately, was well founded.

A few days ago, on November 6, Lockheed Martin (the same company that produces the F-35s) signed a first $ 340 million contract with the US Army for the production of medium-range missiles, including those armed with nuclear warheads, designed to be installed in Europe. Missiles of this category (with a ground base and range between 500 and 5500 km) were prohibited by the INF Treaty, signed in 1987 by Presidents Gorbachev and Reagan: it had eliminated the nuclear ballistic missiles Pershing 2, deployed by the United States in Western Germany, and the nuclear cruise Tomahawk missiles, deployed by the United States in Italy (Comiso, Sicily), Great Britain, West Germany, Belgium, and Holland, and at the same time the SS-20 ballistic missiles deployed by the Soviet Union on its territory.

In 2014, without any evicence, the Obama administration accused Russia of having tested a cruise missile (acronym 9M729) in the category prohibited by the Treaty, and, in 2015, announced that "faced with the violation of the INF Treaty by Russia, the United States is considering the deployment of ground-based missiles in Europe.”

The baton then passed to the Trump administration, which in 2019 decided on the withdrawal of the United States from the INF Treaty, accusing Russia of having "deliberately violated" it. After some missile tests, Lockheed Martin was commissioned to build a cruise missile deriving from the Tomahawk and a ballistic missile deriving from Raytheon’s SM-6. According to the contract, the two missiles will be operational in 2023: therefore, ready to be installed in Europe in two years.

The geographic factor should be kept in mind: while a medium-range US nuclear ballistic missile launched from Europe can hit Moscow in a few minutes, a similar missile launched by Russia can hit European capitals, but not Washington. Reversing the scenario, it is as if Russia were to deploy medium-range nuclear missiles in Mexico.

It should also be noted that the SM-6 performs the function of "three missiles in one," as Raytheon specified: anti-aircraft, anti-missile and attack missile. The nuclear missile deriving from the SM-6 will therefore be able to be used by the US "shield" ships and land installations in Europe: their launch tubes, as Lockheed Martin specified, can launch "missiles for all missions."

In his October 26, 2020 statement, President Putin reaffirmed the INF Treaty validity, calling the US withdrawal a "grave mistake," and Russia’s commitment not to deploy similar missiles, until the US deploys its own missiles close to Russian territory. He, therefore, proposed a "mutual moratorium" to NATO countries and "mutual verification measures," that is inspections in the reciprocal missile installations.

The Russian proposal was ignored by NATO. Its secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg reiterated on 10 November that "in such an uncertain world, nuclear weapons continue to play a vital role in preserving peace.”

No voices were raised from European governments and parliaments, even though Europe risks being at a nuclear confrontation forefront similar or more dangerous than that of the Cold War. But this is not the threat of Covid 19, and therefore nobody talks of it.

The European Union, (21 over 27 members are part of NATO), has already made its voice heard when in 2018 it rejected the resolution presented by Russia on the "Preservation and observance of the INF Treaty" at the United Nations, giving the green light to the installation of new US nuclear missiles in Europe.

Will anything change once Joe Biden takes office in the White House? Or, will Democrat Biden (formerly Obama’s vice president) sign the installation of the new US nuclear missiles in Europe, after Democratic Obama opened the new nuclear confrontation with Russia and Republican Trump aggravated it by tearing up the INF Treaty?

Manlio Dinucci

Il Manifesto (Italy)

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We shall see what Biden and his hawks will do with this crap...

removing the troops...



By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

These are things that might have been done earlier. During the last, flickering days of the Trump administration, activity is being witnessed across countries which have a US troop presence. Numbers are being reduced. Security wonks are getting the jitters. Is the imperium shrinking? Will President elect Joe Biden wake up and reverse the trend? With the Beltway foreign policy Blob advising him, most likely.

In November, acting defence secretary Christopher Miller announced that the number of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq would fall from 4,500 to 2,500 and 3,500 to 2,500 respectively. Somalia has been added to the list of countries which will see US withdrawals in some number. The current troop presence stands at 700, tasked with assisting an African Union-backed peacekeeping force combat the al-Shabaab insurgency.

A good number are also there to train and support Danab, the Somali special forces with eyes on capturing and killing leaders of the insurgent movement.

The ultimate objective of US Africa Command in East Africa, then, “is one in which terrorist organizations are not able to threaten the US homeland, US persons, international allies or destabilize the region.”

This is a conflict that has a relentless air of eternity to it. Al-Shabaab counts itself as yet another, albeit more formidable militant group, that has thrived in Somalia’s unruly environment. Its claim to radicalised fame came with Ethiopia’s December 2006 invasion of the country. It was encouraged by the Somalian transitional government, with the intention of ousting al-Shabaab and the Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu, captured by the fundamentalist alliance that June. 

According to Robert Wise, the Ethiopian occupation transformed al-Shabaab “from a small relatively unimportant part of a more moderate Islamic movement into the most powerful and radical armed faction in the country.” Yet another salient lesson in the perils of foreign intervention.

US administrations might have feared the messiness of the Somali scene. The death of 18 US soldiers in October 1993 in a failed effort to capture the warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid in Mogadishu stung. Cruise-missile humanitarians and interventionists would have to wait for the republic to find its feet again.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 on the United States furnished the moment, incarnating the global terrorist phenomenon and the pretext for an international deployment of US forces, officially and covertly. On March 19, 2003, the capture and interrogation of Suleiman Abdallah heralded the return of US troops to Somalia.

During the Obama administration, US drone strikes, with all the accompanying problems of legality and accountability, were the favoured weapon of choice against the group. These were also accompanied by ground raids. Killings, such as those of its leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, in September 2014, were celebrated as triggers for an eventual collapse that never came.

“Godane’s removal is a major symbolic and operational loss to the largest al-Qaida affiliate in Africa,” came the confident assessment from the White House, “and reflects years of painstaking work by our intelligence, military and law enforcement officials.” 

Godane’s slaying was a spur, rather than a deterrent, for the organisation. Attacks on African peacekeeping forces increased; suicide bombings were used liberally, culminating in the slaughter of October 2017 in Mogadishu leaving almost 600 civilians dead.

In the earlier stage of his administration, President Donald Trump showed a marked interest in deepening US involvement in Somalia. The rhetoric of disentanglement was nowhere to be found. 

In March 2017, he approved a proposal from the Pentagon to expand operations against militants in the country. Commanders were no longer required to obtain high-level vetting of al-Shabaab targets in designated “areas of active hostilities”. As General Thomas Waldhauser of US Africa Command described it, “It allows [us] to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion.” In 2018, 47 US drone strikes were executed. Last year, the number climbed to 63. 

This was not to last. Trump began to cool to the US involvement. Earlier this year, the US pulled out from the cities of Bosaso and Galkayo. The now departed defence secretary Mark Esper was not enthused by the change of heart, and preferred continued engagement. Trump, for his part, preferred Kenyan security forces to have a greater role.

The statement from the Pentagon was packed with those reassurances that will affect audiences differently. The overall theme of the exit is change without difference. 

The US is not withdrawing or disengaging from Africa. We remain committed to our African partners and enduring support through a whole-of-government approach.” 

This is not the case of US soldiers returning home to celebratory fanfare for a disentangling republic. Many will find themselves in neighbouring Kenya, which has had its fair share of problems with al-Shabaab. 

As a result of this decision, some forces may be reassigned outside of East Africa. However, the remaining forces will be repositioned from Somalia into neighbouring countries in order to allow cross-border operations by both US and partner forces.”

Somali President Mohamed Abdullah Mohamed is none too keen on the move, suggesting that his brittle government has gotten used to a particular diet of assistance.

In October, he took to Twitter to claim that US “military support to Somalia has enabled us to effectively combat Al-Shabaab and secure the Horn of Africa. A victory through this journey and for Somali-US partnership can only be achieved through continuous security partnership and capacity building support.”

Senator Ayub Ismail Yusuf called the decision to remove US forces “untimely.” Well attuned to the language that has kept Washington engaged in foreign theatres since 2001, the true enemy was terrorism. 

The fight against global terrorism is still ongoing and we must still win this battle for peace and security to prevail.”

Colonel Ahmed Abdullahi Sheikh, Danab’s commander for three years till 2019, is convinced that making such a withdrawal permanent “will have a huge toll on counterterrorism efforts”.

Such comments suggest a far rosier picture of US involvement and Somali government successes. The US Defence Department Inspector General is far more measured in the July-September 2020 report.

Despite many years of sustained Somali, US, and international counterterrorism pressure, the terrorist threat in East Africa is not degraded: al-Shabaab retains freedom of movement in many parts of southern Somalia and has demonstrated an ability and intent to attack outside of the country, including targeting US interests.”

For the devotees of the imperial footprint, there is no way around it. The decision to exit is poor; the imperium’s interests will be harmed. William Lawrence from the American University in Washington, DC does not even shy away from a pseudo-colonial message. “The blow from the US operations standpoint is that over time, it will lose its ability to Americanise on the ground and to have more interaction with Somali troops.” Somalia would suffer a “real blow” with the departure of US personnel. “There is no good military or strategic reason for this move.”

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:





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One has to note that Al-Shabaab is "secretely" aligned with the Saudis/Sunnis, complicating the dynamics of the situation. Retreat is advised...



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stop the war, speak out...

John Pilger: The most lethal virus is not Covid. It is war.

Britain’s Armed Forces Memorial is a silent, haunting place.

Set in the rural beauty of Staffordshire, in an arboretum of some 30,000 trees and sweeping lawns, its Homeric figures celebrate determination and sacrifice.

The names of more than 16,000 British servicemen and women are listed. The literature says they “died in operational theatre or were targeted by terrorists”.

On the day I was there, a stonemason was adding new names to those who have died in some 50 operations across the world during what is known as “peacetime”. Malaya, Ireland, Kenya, Hong Kong, Libya, Iraq, Palestine and many more, including secret operations, such as Indochina.

Not a year has passed since peace was declared in 1945 that Britain has not sent military forces to fight the wars of empire.

Not a year has passed when countries, mostly poor and riven by conflict, have not bought or have been “soft loaned” British arms to further the wars, or “interests”, of empire.

Empire? What empire? The investigative journalist Phil Miller recently revealed in Declassified that Boris Johnson’s Britain maintained 145 military sites – call them bases – in 42 countries. Johnson has boasted that Britain is to be “the foremost naval power in Europe”.

In the midst of the greatest health emergency in modern times, with millions of medical procedures delayed by the National Health Service, Johnson has announced a record increase of £16.5 billion in so-called defence spending – a figure that would restore the under-resourced NHS many times over.

But these billions are not for defence. Britain has no enemies other than those within who betray the trust of its ordinary people, its nurses and doctors, its carers, elderly, homeless and youth, as successive neo-liberal governments have done, Conservative and Labour.

Exploring the serenity of the National War Memorial I soon realised there was not a single monument, or plinth, or plaque, or rosebush honouring the memory of Britain’s victims – the civilians in the “peacetime” operations commemorated here.

There is no remembrance of the Libyans killed when their country was wilfully destroyed by Prime Minister David Cameron and his collaborators in Paris and Washington.

There is no word of regret for the Serbian women and children killed by British bombs, dropped from a safe height on schools, factories, bridges, towns, on the orders of Tony Blair; or for the impoverished Yemeni children extinguished by Saudi pilots with their logistics and targets supplied by Britons in the air-conditioned safety of Riyadh; or for the Syrians starved by “sanctions”.

There is no monument to the Palestinian children murdered with the British elite’s enduring connivance, such as the recent campaign that destroyed a modest reform movement within the Labour Party with specious accusations of anti-Semitism.

Two weeks ago, Israel’s military chief of staff and Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff signed an agreement to “formalise and enhance” military co-operation. This was not news. More British arms and logistical support will now flow to the lawless regime in Tel Aviv, whose snipers target children and psychopaths interrogate children in extreme isolation. (See the recent shocking report by Defense for Children, Isolated and Alone).

Perhaps the most striking omission at the Staffordshire war memorial is an acknowledgement of the million Iraqis whose lives and country were destroyed by the illegal invasion of Blair and Bush in 2003.

ORB, a member of the British Polling Council, put the figure at 1.2 million. In 2013, the ComRes organisation asked a cross-section of the British public how many Iraqis had died in the invasion. A majority said fewer than 10,000.

How is such a lethal silence sustained in a sophisticated society? My answer is that propaganda is far more effective in societies that regard themselves as free than in dictatorships and autocracies. I include censorship by omission.

Our propaganda industries – both political and cultural, including most of the media – are the most powerful, ubiquitous and refined on earth. Big lies can be repeated incessantly in comforting, credible BBC voices. Omissions are no problem.

A similar question relates to nuclear war, whose threat is “of no interest”, to quote Harold Pinter. Russia, a nuclear power, is encircled by the war-making group known as Nato, with British troops regularly “maneuvering” right up to the border where Hitler invaded.

The defamation of all things Russian, not least the historical truth that the Red Army largely won the Second World War, is percolated into public consciousness. The Russians are of “no interest”, except as demons.

China, also a nuclear power, is the brunt of unrelenting provocation, with American strategic bombers and drones constantly probing its territorial space and – hooray – HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s £3billion aircraft carrier, soon to sail 6,500 miles to enforce “freedom of navigation” within sight of the Chinese mainland.

Some 400 American bases encircle China, “rather like a noose”, a former Pentagon planner said to me. They extend all the way from Australia, though the Pacific to southern and northern Asia and across Eurasia.

In South Korea, a missile system known as Terminal High Altitude Air Defense, or THAAD, is aimed point-blank at China across the narrow East China Sea. Imagine Chinese missiles in Mexico or Canada or off the coast of California.

A few years after the invasion of Iraq, I made a film called The War You Don’t See, in which I asked leading American and British journalists as well as TV news executives – people I knew as colleagues – why and how Bush and Blair were allowed to get away with the great crime in Iraq, considering that the lies were not very clever.

Take your pick among the legion of Russia and China bashers and promoters of fiction such as Russiagate. My personal Oscar goes to Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald, whose unrelenting rousing drivel about the “existential threat” (of China/Russia, mostly China) was illustrated by a smiling Scott Morrison, the PR man who is Australia’s prime minister, dressed like Churchill, V for Victory sign and all. “Not since the 1930s…” the pair of them intoned. Ad nauseum.

Covid has provided cover for this pandemic of propaganda. In July, Morrison took his cue from Trump and announced that Australia, which has no enemies, would spend AU$270 billion (US$186.5 billion) on provoking one, including missiles that could reach China.

That China’s purchase of Australia’s minerals and agriculture effectively underwrote the Australian economy was “of no interest” to the government in Canberra.

The Australian media cheered almost as one, delivering a shower of abuse at China. Thousands of Chinese students, who had guaranteed the gross salaries of Australian vice-chancellors, were advised by their government to go elsewhere. Chinese-Australians were bad-mouthed and delivery men were assaulted. Colonial racism is never hard to revive. 

Some years ago, I interviewed the former head of the CIA in Latin America, Duane Clarridge. In a few refreshingly honest words, he summed up “Western” foreign policy as it is ordained and directed by Washington.

The super-power, he said, could do what it wanted where it wanted whenever its “strategic interests” dictated. His words were: “Get used to it, world.”

I have reported a number of wars. I have seen the remains of children and women and the elderly bombed and burned to death: their villages laid to waste, their petrified trees festooned with human parts. And much else.

Perhaps that is why I reserve a specific contempt for those who promote the crime of rapacious war, who beckon it with bad faith and profanities, having never experienced it themselves. Their monopoly must be broken.

This is a version of an address John Pilger gave to a Stop the War fund-raiser, Artists Speak Out, in London.  



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welcolme to the cockroaches overlord...


shooting ourselves in the foot...


ongoing mental health issues...


more jewishly brazen after US presidential elections...


war is peace...

undiplomatic shit...


The Futility and Cruelty of Washington’s Economic Sanctions

by  Posted on December 14, 2020


A perennial favorite tactic for officials running U.S. foreign policy has been to impose economic sanctions on countries whose governments defy Washington’s wishes. Sanctions enjoy a reputation among the policy elite of being the responsible "middle option" between relying solely on diplomacy or using military force when dealing with an adversary. Political leaders resist the former approach because they fear being portrayed as weakling appeasers. Conversely, launching military interventions entails significant perils and drawbacks – a point that the multiple, sometimes spectacular, failures of Washington’s wars over the past seven decades underscore. 

But the image of sanctions as a sensible middle course is largely an illusion. Economic sanctions have the unique feature of being simultaneously ineffectual and cruel. Their track record of successfully compelling recalcitrant governments is dismal. At the same time, they have inflicted enormous suffering on civilian populations that have little or no power to get entrenched regimes to comply with US demands. Four countries have been especially prominent targets of Washington’s reliance on sanctions: North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela. A succession of presidential administrations deserve credit for tenacity, if not much else.

Washington has sought to isolate North Korea and impede its economic interactions with the outside world since the Korean War ended in 1953. The campaign intensified when evidence emerged in the early 1990s that Pyongyang had embarked on a program to develop nuclear weapons. Since then, the United States has pressured the rest of the international community to endorse a seemingly endless escalation of punitive measures. The North Korean people who are not members of the political elite certainly endure miserable lives, as sanctions exacerbate the disastrous impact of Pyongyang’s dysfunctional communist economic system. Periodic famines have resulted in the deaths of more than a million victims. The pervasive poverty is evident in a variety of ways, including the phenomenon that adult North Koreans are on average several inches shorter than their prosperous South Korean brethren.

But while it’s indisputable that the U.S.-led system of sanctions has devastated the North Korean people, it has not caused the regime to retreat in any meaningful way. Washington’s principal demand has remained consistent throughout five administrations, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal, that Pyongyang agree to a complete, verifiable, and irreversible end to its nuclear weapons program. Instead, North Korea has conducted multiple nuclear tests over the years and now apparently possesses an arsenal of 20 to 30 nuclear weapons – along with a growing missile delivery system. Such an outcome constitutes the operational definition of a policy failure.

The United States has experienced an equal lack of success with its campaign to punish Cuba. True, Cuba’s economy lags well behind those of its hemispheric neighbors, and Cuban cities look as though they’ve been caught in a time warp – their streets cluttered with barely functional automobiles from the 1950s. Nevertheless, Washington’s strategy of pressuring the country’s communist regime to democratize and accept several other demands shows few signs of success. Furthermore, the leakage of Washington’s sanctions policy against Cuba grows worse each year. President Barack Obama seemed to recognize the fading effectiveness of the existing approach and took limited steps toward normalizing relations. Unfortunately, President Trump reversed many of those steps, and the surly impasse between Washington and Havana, now entering its seventh decade, continues.

Apparently learning little or nothing from the futile record regarding North Korea and Cuba, US leaders adopted a similar, vengeful approach toward Iran following the Islamic revolution in that country and browbeat US allies and clients to follow Washington’s lead. The outcome reflects a familiar pattern. The sanctions, especially the restrictions on financial transactions and oil exports, have substantially depressed the living standards of ordinary Iranians, but Tehran has not altered its foreign policy in ways Washington insists. Iran’s clerical regime still maintains close ties to Hezbollah and other groups opposed to Israel, still backs the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, still works with Shia militias in Iraq, and still aids the Houthis in their effort to gain power in Yemen. 

In essence, US leaders demand that Tehran placidly accept Israeli and Saudi preeminence in the Middle East and be content to occupy a vulnerable, thoroughly subordinate, status in the region at Washington’s sufferance. Not surprisingly, Iran refuses to accept such a humiliating outcome. Moreover, even when Tehran shows a willingness to compromise on some issues, the United States spurns such efforts – as it did when the Trump administration sabotaged the multilateral agreement restricting Iran’s nuclear program.

A more recent U.S.-orchestrated sanctions campaign is one directed against Venezuela’s Marxist government. Even though several key countries, most notably Russia and China, openly defy Washington’s wishes, the Trump administration continues to tighten the economic screws in an effort to bring down Nicolas Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian, anti-U.S. regime. The corruption, systemic incompetence, and the inherent folly of Maduro’s socialist policies would have been enough by themselves to tank the Venezuelan economy and cause widespread deprivation, but the additional burdens caused by US punitive measures have made the lives of ordinary Venezuelans even more miserable. They also have worsened a huge refugee flow out of the country that creates burdens on Colombia and other neighboring states. Yet, even with all of Washington’s pressure, Maduro has been able to hang on to power and remain a political and diplomatic thorn in the side of the United States. In yet another case, sanctions have failed to achieve their policy goal.

These outcomes should come as no surprise. Economic sanctions have a long track record as an ineffective foreign policy tool. More than three decades ago, the seminal scholarly work of Gary Hufbauer, Jeffrey Schott, and Kimberly Ann Elliott, Economic Sanctions Reconsidered, documented that sanctions rarely achieved their policy goals. More recent editions of the book confirm the conclusion with even greater certainty. Sanctions inconvenience the targeted regime – and create substantial suffering for innocent people in that country – but they seldom compel the regime to capitulate or even make major concessions. As Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliott demonstrate, that outcome is especially true when the issue in question is a high-priority for the country’s political leadership. The success of international sanctions in inducing South Africa’s apartheid government to relinquish power is the example of success that proponents invariably cite. But that episode involved an exceptional degree of unity on the part of the international community, and the achievement remains a rarity. None of the campaigns the United States has pushed has come close to duplicating the feat. 

The ineffectiveness of sanctions should be reason enough to avoid resorting to the policy in the future, but the grinding cruelty of such measures is an even more compelling reason. Unfortunately, US officials seem oblivious or callous about that problem. The most shocking example of insensitivity was then-UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright’s statement during an interview on CBS 60 Minutes when reporter Lesley Stahl cited accounts that the U.S.-led international sanctions against Iraq, still in effect years after the Persian Gulf War, had cost the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children. When asked if the policy had been worth such a price, Albright responded: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it." The comment was not only unworthy of a US official, but unworthy of any decent human being. And continuing to impose economic sanctions that cause suffering to innocent civilians is a policy unworthy of a decent country.



Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of 12 books and more than 850 articles on international affairs.



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