In light of the new sanctions on Venezuela announced by the increasingly neocon Trump administration, let’s take a deep breath and get some clarity on what sanctions are and how they operate in the real world. Hey, maybe you disagree with my premise that, “Sanctions are an act of war?” Would it hurt to explore an alternative view?
First, I encourage you to explore the principle of empathy. If you find it hard to put yourself in the shoes of a Venezuelan (or Russian), maybe you can dare to ask a question like Rep. Ron Paul did back during the NBC News debate in Tampa, Jan. 23, 2012:
Can you imagine what we would do if somebody blockaded the Gulf of Mexico?
Okay, maybe saying, “Sanctions are an act of war,” is a little over the top, but can we admit that they are at least akin to it? Hasn’t history taught us that sanctions are, at least, a strong step towards war?
Recall the 11 years of brutal U.S. sanctions on Iraq. They targeted and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. Yes, children, not one of whom ever initiated any violence against the United States. The goal? Again, regime change. The idea was that if the Iraqi people wanted to avoid the ever-increasing death toll of their children, they could oust Saddam Hussein from power and install a regime that was acceptable to U.S. officials. Alternatively, the idea was that Saddam Hussein, if he cared about the Iraqi children, would abdicate in favor of a pro-U.S. regime or simply agree to comply with U.S. dictates…
Some of my well-intentioned colleagues may be tempted to vote for sanctions on Iran because they view this as a way to avoid war on Iran. I will ask them whether the sanctions on Iraq satisfied those pushing for war at that time. Or whether the application of ever-stronger sanctions in fact helped war advocates make their case for war on Iraq: as each round of new sanctions failed to “work” – to change the regime – war became the only remaining regime-change option. – Rep. Ron Paul (April 23, 2010)
If the Pentagon suddenly bombed North Korea, killing thousands of North Korean citizens, that would clearly be considered an act of war. Yet, when the U.S. government intentionally targets North Korea with economic sanctions that kill thousands of North Koreans through starvation or illness, that’s considered to be simply a peaceful diplomatic measure. That’s odd because from a practical standpoint, people are dead either way — from bombs or sanctions.
Americans have become so accustomed to the concept of sanctions that the policy has become hum-drum and commonplace. Since the violence associated with sanctions is indirect and difficult to see, people don’t put them in the same category as bombs. But the reality is that sanctions, by virtue of their targeting foreign citizens for death, are every bit an act of war as dropping bombs on them…