Sunday, January 23, 2005

War or Sanctions?

David is one of the most responsive readers of this blog. He kindly leaves long and thoughtful comments, engages critically with my posts, and offers his own take on the issues that I raise. I want to respond to his last comment in the body of this post, because I think what he says is important enough (at least to me) to get its own post. Often there are points upon which many of us can agree, like being against Bush's domestic and foreign policies. And then, there are times when we don't agree. I think those are the times that we need to have discussions and delve deeper into the issues in order to have a productive dialogue . This is one of those times. David and I both signed a petition to which I gave a link in my last post. The petition is asking the U.N. to intervene and prevent a possible attack on Iran by the U.S. or its allies.
Here is David's comment:
"Sima, I signed the petition, too. I don't think that attacking Iran will accomplish anything positive. Diplomatic pressure and time are are what Iran needs, in my opinion. Iran is doing a lot of business with Europe and China. If Bush would only see the value of cooperation rather than alienation, significant economic pressure could be brought to bare on Iran's rulers. The Mullahs have become decadent and spoiled by their lavish lifestyles. I think that they value money more than ideology. For this reason, I think that they could be brought to heel if their gravy train were threatened."
I agree with david in that there are some elements in the Iranian government (I think without naming any names, many of us can think of some!) who continue to get richer, using their power and influence in both state and para-state apparatus (like bonyads). However, I think the sort of approach that sees economic pressure as the necessary strategy to bring Iran's Mullahs "to heel" relies on two sets of assumptions:
1. That the world has to heel to the U.S. (and that the U.S. should be in the position of holding moral and economic hegemony.)
2. That economic sanctions will hurt the "ruling mullahs."
I disagree with both. For one, I don't know why the U.S. assumes itself the paternal role in the world. I think many marginalized groups in the U.S. can attest to the fact that claims of equality and democracy in the U.S. do not mean much to them. There is much to be done here at "home." Perhaps before policing the world, the U.S. government can pay attention to the corruption among its own ranks and can fix some of these issues. And the problems are many: homelessness, gang violence, police brutality, drugs, violence against women and queers, deteriorating education, anti-immigrant laws and practices, poor healthcare, silencing voices of dissent on campuses, and the list goes on... I think we could agree that economic gains and geopolitical power, rather than genuine concern for human rights abuses, are what motivate the U.S. to intervene in Iran's affairs. Otherwise, there are plenty of human rights abuses in many parts of the world to which U.S. remains silent (Saudi Arabia and Egypt, just to bring a couple of examples, continue to be in this blind spot!). Let's not forget that many undemocratic regimes and groups have been backed up by the U.S. (Wahhabis and Taliban are two other examples of U.S. sponsorship of fundamentalist religious movements).
Secondly, I think economic pressure does not really hurt the "ruling Mullahs." It is often the ordinary people who suffer from these economic policies. Look at the case of Iraq and see how the sanctions killed so many people. That was diplomacy... as lethal as war. I doubt that Saddam suffered from lack of clean water or food during the sanctions! Thousands of children died as the direct result of sanctions in Iraq, prior to the "shock and awe" of March 19th, when U.S. bombs killed many more.
It is not just Mullahs who rule Iran; in our times, forms of governmentality have changed. Soveriegn nations no longer are "sovereign!" There are multiple networks of power to which we need to pay attention. Without going into a theoretical discussion, I'll just bring an example: Recently, Halliburton got a major gas contract in Iran, despite the sanctions!! Wasn't Cheney the Chair of this giant at one point? Now, let's see which Iranian voices are being shut down by U.S. companies becasue of the sanctions: ISNA, the Iranian student agency!! We shut down the only viable voices that can bring about change in Iran, in order to advocate democracy?!! It is O.K. to dig gas, but sanctions must be implemented when it comes to Internet technology? I think tightening sanctions can only hurt people who have been working towards change in Iran. Not to mention the misery and hunger that it would put people through (again, think of the way sanctions hurt people in Iraq).
I did sign the petition, as I said in that post, because I am strongly against war, be it in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other place for that matter. However, if diplomacy is going to mean sanctions, the way it worked in Iraq, I would ask the U.N. to back off and let the Iranian people be!


The sidebar image is taken from Mahmoud Pakzad's "Old Tehran", Did Publishers, 1994. Thanks to Jahanshah Javid (www.iranian.com) for sharing it.

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