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Obama, Romney and Iranian Sanctions


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As the US election reaches its final stages the third of three tedious debates took place last week on US foreign policy. The amazing thing about the debate was the level of agreement between the two candidates, and nowhere was there more bi-partisan approval then on Iranian sanctions.

Barack Obama’s statement on the sanctions was:

“We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy. Their currency has dropped 80%. Their oil production has plunged to the lowest level since they were fighting a war with Iraq 20 years ago. So their economy is in a shambles.

"And the reason we did this is because a nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security, and it is a threat to Israel's national security. We cannot afford to have a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.”

Mitt Romney agreed with Obama on this one, and then added this interesting thought:

“Secondly, I'd take on diplomatic isolation efforts. I'd make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it.”

This is no doubt referring to the mythical Ahmadinejad quote that "Israel should be wiped off the map", a quote that has been a cornerstone of many pro-war arguments for the destruction of Iran. Juan Cole, American Academic and Farsi speaker, gave the correct version to hawk Christopher Hitchens:

“The Phrase he then used as I read it is “The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] from the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad).

"Ahmadinejad was not making a threat, he was quoting a saying of Khomeini and urging that pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope – that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had the hegemony of the Shah’s government”.

But to take Romney’s allegation a bit further, if we apply his standard of ‘genocide incitation’ to himself and Obama, doesn’t that make them both criminals? Economic sanctions are a form of state terrorism (vastly more dangerous and barbaric than the other terrorism you hear so much about). It is not so much war on a country but on its people as they do the suffering whilst their countries ruling class feels nothing.

At its most extreme sanctions can cause incredible suffering. Sanctions on Iraq from 1990-2003 caused the death of one million people, half of which were young children. This had no effect on the Saddam Hussein regime. Madeline Albright, recent winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, would be guilty of ‘genocide incitation’ under Romney’s standards when she had this to say on the Iraqi sanctions:

“I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”

The sanctions on Iran are, as expected, causing suffering to its citizens rather than its ruling clique. Particularly in the realm of healthcare, an Al-Jazeera article contains a stark warning of a ‘cancer tsunami’ due to the number of new cases of cancer every year (70,000-80,000) coupled with lack of proper treatment. It also quotes from a letter from the head of Iran’s Charity Foundation for Special Diseases Fatemeh Hashemi, to UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon. She wrote:

“Although drugs have not been sanctioned, due to the impossibility of paying for the imported drugs through the banking system, the heavy shadow of the sanctions is felt in the health sector. Not only has importing drugs been disrupted, importing the raw chemicals [for the drugs that Iran does produce] has also been disrupted... As a human activist, I call on humanity's conscience to pay attention to the fact that, despite the claims by those that have imposed the sanctions, their pressure is having its destructive effect on the life and health of the people."

We shall see if the sanctions have the same effect on Iran as they did on Iraq (and whether Iran will be attacked militarily for not having nuclear weapons like Iraq). Romney’s comment on ‘genocide incitation’ is also a ridiculous assertion; people should not be prosecuted for what they say (or in the case of Ahmadinejad, didn’t say!). If they were, there would be no presidential election, as both candidates would be on trial.

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