Dec 1, 2009

Iraq and the "terrible price" of sanctions

When a rogue nation is making life miserable for the international community, what can be done? Diplomatic talk is cheap--but you get what you pay for. War is costly, and only sometimes efficacious. Economic sanctions are a potential compromise, a way to pressure a nation into changes, or to at least keep it from wreaking havoc, without the commitment and cost of conflict.

But is it the right thing to do? Or does it end up punishing the wrong people? A recent example of the perils of sanctions--one that's already fully played out--is that of the U.S-led approach to Iraq. In an article published in the New York Times in 2003, David Rieff explores both sides of the sanctions debate.
American officials may quarrel with the numbers, but there is little doubt that at least several hundred thousand children who could reasonably have been expected to live died before their fifth birthdays. The damage, according to those who fought against sanctions, was terrible, medieval. It was, in the literal sense, unconscionable, since those who died had not themselves developed weapons of mass destruction or invaded Kuwait. Rather, they were the cannon fodder for Hussein's war and the victims of his repression.

Madeleine Albright was widely excoriated in 1996 for telling a television interviewer who asked her about the deaths of Iraqi children caused by sanctions, "This is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it."

She says now that she regrets the comment -- "It was a genuinely stupid thing to say" -- and in a recent interview seemed still to be struggling with the moral and strategic questions that underlie the sanctions debate. For Albright, the comprehensive regime of sanctions imposed on Iraq represented at best a tragic choice between unhappy alternatives -- a search for the lesser evil.

As Albright put it to me, "I wish people understood that these are not black and white choices; the choices are really hard." Sanctions like the ones that were imposed on Iraq, she said, "are a blunt instrument. That's their tragedy. What was so terrible for me was that I did see the faces of the people who were suffering -- even if I thought then and think now that the sufferings of the Iraqi people were Saddam's doing, not ours. There's a terrible price you pay. A terrible price."
The whole article is worth reading, especially if you're an LD debater interested in the Jan / Feb sanctions resolution.


Anonymous said...

what article is this?

Jim Anderson said...

It's "Were Sanctions Right?" and the link is up above the blockquote.