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Sanctions Help No One

Maral Shamloo

I am writing this column in response to Dan Tortorice’s column “Supporting Sanctions on Iraq” [Feb. 15].

In this column Mr. Tortorice argues that one way of ensuring the safety of U.S. citizens is keeping countries such as Iraq under sanctions, hence preventing them from sponsoring terrorist actions similar to Sept. 11. He concludes: “If we trade freely with Iraq, then we all will be funding terrorism.”

One could look at this from many different perspectives, but I would like to argue assuming that the U.S. government would -- and it certainly should -- put the safety and interests of its citizens first and foremost. There are a few reasons why I believe the current embargo is disadvantageous to United States.

As Tortorice mentions, the United States was instrumental in the development of the very same deadly biological and chemical weapons Iraq possesses, that it feels threatened by at the moment. This was while Iraq was considered an ally in its war against Iran. But unlike Tortorice, I believe that this incident and many similar situations are of imperative relevance and importance here. U.S. foreign policy suffers from a long-term inconsistency. The Taliban and bin Laden for example were part of the forces created by the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to defeat the Soviets in the 1980s. These forces were funded by the CIA and heroin sales facilitated by it. Now after nearly two decades, they have grown to be one the biggest threats to national (and indeed international) security.

Similar situations are not difficult to find, and although the United States has changed its subject states of interest, it has certainly not ceased to use military support to bias and skew the power distribution in the region in order to pursue certain interests. Israel, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are the prominent aid receivers in the region. Now, if for any reason relations between the U.S. and any of these governments hits a downfall, today’s allies would turn into potential threats. This is what we are facing in the cases of Iraq and the Taliban.

Many U.S. actions and policies are adopted for the sole purpose of proving and conserving its credibility, providing no benefit to other countries. Take the current war in Afghanistan for instance. Hundreds of civilians lost their lives, and thousands fled the country. But after about four months of relentless bombing, air strikes and other military action, not only has bin Laden not been found, but also U.S. troops were defeated in a battle against al Qaeda, evidence that the network is still functioning in the country. It makes one wonder what the point of war against terrorism was. Millions of dollars of the U.S. budget is diverted, lives of tens of American soldiers are lost (remember we are analyzing the situation merely in terms of U.S. cost and benefit) and still the main targets are not met.

The same situation exists in Iraq. As a result of the sanctions, the U.S. has deprived itself of trade with the country that owns the second largest oil reserves in the world, leading to an increase in oil prices, plus the need to devote huge budgets to military and intelligence services for constant observation of Iraq. The sanctions, however, have not been successful in removing Saddam Hussein from power or even letting the U.N. inspectors return.

Apart from minor conflicts in national interests, Muslims across the world generally tend to be very supportive of each other. The religion has created a powerful bond between Muslims which makes them feel strongly about the fate of their “brothers and sisters” regardless of their nationality. U.S. actions against Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, etc. are frowned upon by citizens of other Muslim countries even if their governments choose to support these policies in an effort to keep a political detente with the U.S.

This accumulating sense of hatred against the United States can be one of the most dangerous products of U.S. policies with devastating consequences. Sept. 11 was one of them.

I fully agree with Tortorice when he mentions in his column: “I doubt that Saudi Arabian citizens have a much deeper hatred for the United States than does the rest of the Muslim world. But what these citizens do have is money. And some of these citizens decided to use their money to kill American people.” But what I consider a flaw in this argument is counting money as the driving force behind anti-American engagements. Palestinians, one of the poorest groups among Arab nations, have been the most active in violent actions against Israelis. They have invested their only asset, their lives, to protect what they believe belongs to them.

What I wish you to leave you with is that unless the U.S. adopts a long-term, consistent, sustainable, interference-free foreign policy, a policy that does not violate other nations’ rights, injure their pride and limit their freedom, there will be no definite guarantees that the nation will be immune to terrorist actions. Unfortunately, despite all of the government’s efforts to secure airports, bus stations, stadiums, large corporate buildings, etc., it takes one and only one mistake for a disaster such as that of Sept. 11 to happen again. Therefore a more effective and long-lasting solution to protect the U.S. against terrorist attacks would be reconsideration of its stance and outlook in its relations with other countries.

On the same grounds, I do not believe that enforcement of embargoes and suppressing Iraq’s economy could contribute to America’s national security. Not mentioning, of course, that as a citizen of the world who respects and regards the lives of human beings no matter what their nationality, the idea of starving innocent civilians sounds morally wrong to me.