Economic Total Warfare: How Many Iranians Will Die from New Trump Sanctions?

By: Tho Bishop
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The Trump Administration is preparing to restore sanctions on Iran that his predecessor lifted as part of a nuclear disarmament agreement. This week John Bolton also indicated that they were considering new sanctions on Nicaragua during a speech that lumped the Central American country with Cuba and Venezuela as the “troika of tyranny” – a new tropical flavored version of the Axis of Evil.

The moves come the same week as Secretaries James Mattis and Mike Pompeo called for Saudi Arabia to end its military action in Yemen. This follows growing pressure from a bipartisan coalition of senators calling for reexamining America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. While much of this is a direct byproduct of the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, many in Washington seem to have finally awakened to the horrors of famine and other human rights abuses in Yemen, a direct byproduct of Saudi Arabia’s actions.

Unfortunately America’s escalation of sanctions to other countries once again highlights the superficial nature of Washington’s lip service to human rights. It’s fitting that Trump boasted about escalating economic sanction with Iran with a Game of Thrones-inspired tweet, the devastation these policies will bring to Iranians brings to mind the callousness of Cersei Lannister.

We know this because this is precisely what happened in the past.

While any government will defend the use of sanctions as an attack on some rouge nation, the reality is that the much of the pain is inflicted directly on the people themselves. Removing Iran from the international financial system devastated Iranian merchants, resulting in scarcity for vital necessities. In particular, sanctions have a significant impact on the availability of even basic medicine. As an Iranian doctor explain to The Guardian:

It’s no more only about shortages in drugs for cancer or special diseases such as haemophilia or thalassemia, but also normal drugs that were abundant in Iran previously. A normal drug like Warfarin, which stops blood clotting, is becoming difficult to find, which means patients’ lives are at risk if we as doctors can’t get these medicines. Another example is Amlodipine, which is for treatment of blood pressure. Amlodipine is produced internally but companies have problems with importing its ingredients due to banking restrictions or other sanctions.

The actions of the Trump Administration will assuredly lead to the deaths of innocent Iranians who have no connection to the regime.

Unfortunately this willingness to punish civilians for the actions of their government is an economic extension of the total war views of the 20th century. Mises wrote about this escalation of warfare in Omnipotent Government:

Modern war is not a war of royal armies. It is a war of the peoples, a total war. It is a war of states which do not leave to their subjects any private sphere; they consider the whole population a part of the armed forces.

Even worse, the Iranians that suffer most from these actions are the very same ones who are the most opposed to their regime. This isn’t simply economic collateral damage, it’s economic friendly fire.

There is one development that may offer some degree of assistance to the Iranian people during this round of sanctions: international pushback to the dominance of the dollar.

As the Trump Administration has doubled down of the same failed policies of the past, we’re seeing an economic version of blowback emerge as well. With the other members of the Obama Iran Deal opposing the Trump Administration re-enacting tariffs, Europe, China, Russia, and others have been working up parallel financial channels to work around the US sanctions. Gold has also become a popular means of avoiding the dollar, with the Trump administration taking new measures to target Venezuela’s gold trade. 

At its best, money is a foundation of civilization and human flourishing, allowing for the division of labor and the benefits of trade. The more the US turns this tool of peace into a weapon of war, the more other countries will look to protect themselves from it. Just as competing currencies is the best way to protect Americans from the hubris of the Fed, it’s the best way to shield the globe from malice of Washington.

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