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A Nation Obsessed With Sanctions: Iran, Iraq, Cuba and Penn State

The time has come to rethink the viability of imposing sanctions on a country or an institution. Does the damage created by these restrictions provide sufficient encouragement that aids in facilitating positive change in the thought process of the leadership of the punished group? Could the penalties levied against countries or institutions actually make the stated objective of the sanctions more difficult to accomplish, while creating unnecessary suffering among the innocent members of the population?

When the United States government desires to influence the behavior of a country that disobeys their commands they often advocate imposing sanctions or a blockade. Unfortunately, the measures pass through Congress with little resistance and receive almost zero scrutiny from the public. Most US citizens feel that placing sanctions on another nation is an effective way to mitigate the risk a country poses to our national security or our global interests. The obsession with sanctions extends outside the political realm as many clubs and associations in the US utilize these tools to penalize and control the behavior of members.

Obviously, sanctions or blockades imposed against a country have a significantly greater impact on the lives of millions of people and dwarf the recent sanctions levied against The Pennsylvania State University in both economic impacts and human suffering. My objective is not to compare the similarities of the sanctions levied on these countries or on the aforementioned university, but to encourage a questioning attitude when considering if sanctions are the proper means for altering behavior in each of these circumstances.

This week the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to expand the existing sanctions placed on Iran. The sanctions focus on the Iranian energy, shipping, and financial industries. The bill, that passed the House by a ridiculous 421-6 vote, strives to force Iran to abandon their quest for a nuclear weapons program. These sanctions are sold to the public as tough actions that are necessary to hold Iran in check. From The Huffington Post:

"The legislation would impose sanctions on anyone who mines uranium with Iran; sells, leases or provides oil tankers to Tehran; or provides insurance to the National Iranian Tanker Co., the state-run shipping line. The bill seeks to undermine Iran’s ability to repatriate revenue from the sale of crude oil.

The bill would penalize anyone who works in Iran’s petroleum, petrochemical or natural gas sector, or helps Tehran’s oil and gas industry by providing goods, services, technology or infrastructure."

A majority of Americans would be surprised to find out that our own intelligence agencies and intelligence sources from around the world have zero evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program or is planning to begin such a program.

It is important to understand, regardless of your opinion relating to Iran’s ability to create a nuclear weapon, that sanctions and blockades are an act of war. They may not incite the same emotions as bombs falling from the sky and occupying ground forces, but the effects are sometimes even more debilitating. Not only are they an act of war, but they cause the least responsible to be punished the most severely. As a result, those suffering as a result of the sanctions often shift the blame from the ruling regime and place the public’s criticism on those enforcing the sanctions. This creates a situation where the despotic leadership is actually able to gain favor as a result of external intervention.

We do not need to look any further to find catastrophic suffering resulting from sanctions than those imposed on Iraq between 1990 and 2003. Anthony Gregory wrote an excellent piece in April 2011, which quotes heavily from Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions by Joy Gordon (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010),that points out the devastating impact of the crippling sanctions placed on Iraq between the hot conflict in 1990 and the ongoing war that began in 2003. It is estimated that during that time frame at least 500,000 children died from malnutrition and disease that otherwise would have lived. If that’s not enough, Osama bin Laden cited these sanctions as a motive for the September 11, 2012 attacks.

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fireant's picture

Why Penn State?

I don't quite get the connection between international sanctions by the U.S. Government and sporting sanctions imposed by a private agency. They are two very different animals from my perspective.

Undo what Wilson did

If you read the entire blog post you would understand

Obviously sanctions levied by a private association differ from those imposed internationally. The point is that sanctions, public or private , punish the wrong people. In the case of Penn State, the sanctions do nothing to punish the person who committed the crime (the rule of law took care of that). All sanctions have unintended consequences that are not readily apparent when they are drawn up. Most of the time, people that had nothing to do with issue or problems that sanctions are attempting to fix end up bearing the most significant portion of the punishment. For example, why are the student athletes at Penn State being punished for a crime that occurred when they were 8 years old?

Obsessed indeed. Great post.

Obsessed indeed. Great post.

Once the BRIC's

get organized and start trading with a new currency, I expect that they will use sanctions on western countries to weaken them...a little payback. What goes around comes around.

Just wait to see how angry americans get when they are first deprived of bannanas...and pretty soon...oil.

It's coming.


Are an act of war and almost always serve as a precursor to "real" war. I can say first hand that sanctions against penn state and Cuba only harm the innocent while leaving the supposed targets of wrongdoing unharmed or even stronger. Castro is still in power. Graham Spanier is getting a nice cushy job with DHS.

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*


..agree. The sanctions only effect the "little" people and make them hate the sanctioned, which comes around and causes a cycle of ill will.


Cuba is an example of how ineffective sanctions are. How many more decades will Americans be excluded from easy travel to Cuba, while Canadians and Europeans are free to travel and spend money?