In a 14-0 vote, the United Nations Security Council voted recently to remove a most oppressive and counterproductive policy that has been imposed on Iraq since the end of the first gulf war. Yes, the council, at America’s urging, has ended the policy of sanctions.
Essentially, other nations refused to ship most products to Iraq under the debunked theory that depriving average Iraqis of food and medicine would force an end to Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian regime. The sanctions clearly didn’t work. After 12 years and, perhaps, several hundred thousand deaths (according to the United Nations) tied to sanctions, it took another military invasion to relieve Iraq of Saddam’s grip on power.
The actual number of deaths is up for debate, especially given that in recent years increasing numbers of nations flouted the policy. But the oil-for-food program, which was supposed to ease suffering on innocents as it clamped down on the regime, only put the regime in firmer control of the lives of Iraqi citizens. Will we ever learn?
Ironically, U.S. officials, who lobbied for lifting the sanctions, made the same arguments we have made during the past few years. Namely, that the sanctions harm the Iraqi people. But, as Future of Freedom Foundation senior fellow Sheldon Richman wondered in a recent column, why didn’t the administration show such concern before the fall of Saddam?
Sanctions rarely work. They give the country’s dictator a ready source of blame for economic problems. Individuals, especially children and elderly people, die from a lack of medical supplies and proper nutrition.
That doesn’t mean the dictator wasn’t primarily to blame for his people’s problems. It’s just that, “given the brutality and self-centeredness of Hussein, wasn’t it predictable that sanctions would hurt not him, but innocent Iraqis?” Richman asked. “Under those circumstances, why are the sponsors of the sanctions not partly responsible for the entirely predictable dire results?”
Good questions, and ones Americans should ask next time an administration wants to impose sanctions on another nation. These are questions that also should be asked about other existing sanctions.
Ironically, some European leaders who had been opposed to sanctions during Saddam’s regime had switched sides, temporarily, and initially opposed the lifting of sanctions. It was a way for them to gain leverage for a greater United Nations role in the rebuilding of Iraq, and to complain about U.S. companies that would now replace European ones as beneficiaries of Iraq’s oil. But, fortunately, they relented in an effort to repair damaged relations with Washington.
Removing sanctions might be the best result to come out of the Iraq war.