NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Sanctions Have Failed In Iraq

December 29, 1998

It is impossible not to be suspicious of President Bill Clinton's motives in bombing Iraq last week, but there is a larger foreign policy question, and that is the efficacy of our sanctions policy. For decades, American presidents have told us we could achieve our foreign policy goals and change the behavior of foreign governments by using trade, rather than arms, as a weapon.

This is especially true in the case of Iraq, against which we and our allies have maintained a tight economic embargo for more than 8 years. Yet there is no evidence these sanctions have achieved their goal or ever will. Saddam Hussein is still in power, he still threatens peace in the Middle East, continues to build weapons of mass destruction, and seems to have little difficulty obtaining all the war material he needs despite the embargo.

Sanctions are a blunt instrument whose force falls primarily on ordinary Iraqis. Children in particular suffer from a lack of food and medicine that is a direct result of sanctions. Hundreds of thousands are said to have died. Yet the elite and the powerful lack for almost nothing because of massive smuggling.

The fallacy of the sanctions policy is assuming Iraq is a democracy in which the people have some say in their government. But as everyone knows, Iraq is an authoritarian state, if not a totalitarian one, in which the people have no voice, no power, no political influence whatsoever.

Bombing Iraq, as President Clinton has done, only compounds the error. Any change in Iraqi behavior that results from it will be temporary at best, an effort to buy time, nothing more. Only elimination of Saddam Hussein is going to change Iraq's policies. Continuing to punish innocent civilians for his crimes is immoral and indefensible.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, December 23, 1998.


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