Do Not, As Madeline Albright Did, Think The Price Is Worth It.
The world is a mess, and Washington is determined to fix it. The secretary of state flies around the globe issuing instructions to friends and foes alike. When foreign officials refuse to listen, Uncle Sam dons his nailed fist.
First come sanctions to back his commands. Washington’s ability and willingness to conduct economic warfare is without pareil. America and its allies understandably fret over Chinese economic performance, in spite of it’s responses such as trade restrictions, bans on tourism, and restrictions of investment. However, the Treasury Department issues new economic sanctions almost daily. Across the globe thousands of governments, businesses, officials, and others are presently on its naughty list.
With nary a thought, let alone serious debate, Congress also penalizes other nations—friends as well as foes—that flout its will. Worst is imposing economic sanctions on already impoverished populations in an attempt to oust or influence their governments. Americans pay for such controls, which greatly complicate international investment, trade, and services, but foreign peoples suffer far more.
Sanctions are notable for both their harm and their ineffectiveness, as seen in Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, and North Korea. When America targets the entire economy, the resulting hardship is widespread and sometimes deadly. American officials know the harm caused to innocents, but simply don’t care. For instance, when confronted with the mass death of Iraqi children from sanctions, Madeleine Albright’s infamous response was: “We think the price is worth it.”
Alas, little practical has been achieved at such high human cost. Although American sanctions ultimately might weaken target regimes, Washington has failed to enforce its will against any of its adversaries. Despite years, even decades, of sanctions, Cuba remains communist and Venezuela remains independent. North Korea has not abandoned its nuclear weapons, Syria has not ousted Bashar al-Assad, and Iran has not abandoned its nuclear activities. Washington also has tried targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, but they have even less impact on hostile governments.
Sanctions have, however, uniformly intensified antagonism toward America. Targeted states have sought assistance elsewhere, especially turning to Russia and China. Washington’s “hostile policy” has become another justification for North Korea’s nuclear program.
Ongoing sanctions against Afghanistan and Russia are likely to fail in much the same way. A year on and the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan is growing more radical as its people suffer ever more from economic collapse. Moscow is escalating its military campaign against Ukraine. Although the Russian economy will suffer further, especially in high-tech fields, Moscow will remain able to deploy a substantial military. The regime may end up looking a bit like a large North Korea: poor and isolated, but doubly belligerent.
Washington’s second tool of intervention is military action. Resist America and Washington is ever ready to bomb, invade, and occupy your nation! The cost of this policy is enormous, starting with the Pentagon budget. Last month, the lame duck Congress approved a record $858 billion in “defense” (really offense) outlays. The so-called global war on terror alone will ultimately cost, including care for wounded and disabled service personnel, about $8 trillion. That accounts for roughly a third of the current publicly held national debt.
Even more tragic are the lives lost and maimed. A conservative estimate of the total dead in America’s wars over the last two decades is about one million. However, by some measures, the number of Iraqis killed in the aftermath of Washington’s invasion alone approaches that number. American deaths, service personnel and contractors, have been in the thousands. Official statistics undercount injuries, which are in the tens of thousands. Better medical care has saved many who would have died in previous contacts, but rampant suicide has increased the death toll, adding more than four times the number of those killed in action, and thousands live with severe injuries and PTSD.
Nor are Americans the only ones to suffer. Allied troops, especially local forces, have suffered tens of thousands of deaths. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have died in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Tens of thousands in Afghanistan. Thousands or tens of thousands – the estimates vary widely – have died in Libya. Large numbers have been injured and millions displaced in these conflicts.
Admittedly, Washington has not directly caused most of the harm, though American airstrikes killed more civilians than successive administrations admitted. Rather, America’s specialty has been to wreck governments and divide countries, inviting and sustaining brutal conflict and mass killing. Washington also has underwritten other combatants, such as Saudi Arabia, which continue to commit murder and mayhem even as prospects for success disappear. None of America’s recent wars have yet delivered the promised peace, stability, prosperity, and democracy.