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Monday, November 25, 2013

What Are Sanctions For?

First things first: Sanctions are a key piece in a suite of both positive and negative incentives to encourage Iraq into a negotiated settlement with the world to prevent the emergence of a new nuclear power there without finding ourselves in another war in the Middle East. It is important to grasp that sanctions were obviously indispensably part, but also just as obviously never the whole, reason Iraq entered into negotiations: There were plenty of positive incentives to encourage this development as well. Given geopolitical realities it isn't exactly irrational for Iraq to want a nuclear weapon, even if there are ways of making it more rational for Iraq not to pursue this end. So long as one simply assumes Iraq is populated entirely with nefarious characters there is little space to contemplate these positive and rational possibilities. It is also important to grasp that the present effectiveness of the sanctions regime derives entirely from the fact that they are supported by many international actors, but that not all of those actors share the belligerent assumptions of neoconservative foreign policy hawks and hence that a stubborn refusal to negotiate once that possibility actually appears would provide grounds to break the sanctions coalition and hence eliminate its effectiveness even for those who (wrongly) focus on the sanctions piece to the exclusion of everything else in the first place. For me, it is hard to shake the suspicion that the suffering caused by sanctions against Iraq is an end in itself for the right, just as the suffering caused by austerity is an end in itself for the right, championed with increased fervor as it fails to accomplish any of its practical economic aims. I think the Republican right wants the bad brown foreigners to suffer as they want the lazy brown people at home to suffer. I don't think the cruelty caucus see the sanctions as a means to the good end of entering into diplomatic negotiations, else they would not have greeted the achievement of such negotiations as such a total catastrophe. The pretense that a willingness to negotiate is itself all the evidence one needs to demonstrate insufficient skepticism and care to engage in negotiations is a self-evident absurdity. If that point is too subtle, how about this one: America doesn't want another damn war. As in Syria, the Obama Administration's willingness to pursue diplomatic alternatives to conflict as they present themselves in Iraq is excoriated in the press as naive, feckless, spastic, dangerous. All the while, Obama's too slow withdrawal from Bush's wars and War on Terror policies as they thread the needle of belligerent neoconservatives and the inertial militarism of neoliberal institutions provides little ground for support from the left. I daresay Obama accepts a corporate-militarist understanding of "America's legitimate interests" that I wouldn't share with him -- I don't think any even remotely electable American President could affirm the planetary democratic socialist regime I'm more than ready for myself -- but I recognize the potential progressive force in Obama's diplomatic efforts and I salute them and their promise.

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