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An unusual place for a polemicist.
September 20, 2011 6:19 AM   Subscribe

There is no right answer.
Damned if we do impose sanctions on Syria. And damned if we don't.
Foreign companies are enriching Assad's brutal regime – but even the Syrian people are divided on the issue of sanctions.
This piece was written by George Monbiot after he had publicly asked for feedback What do you think – should we impose sanctions on Syria?
The moral line is unclear, but I'm writing a column next week about this issue and would appreciate some of your input.
Useful background : Geopolitics of the 2011 Syrian Uprising. Some voices from the street. (Previous 1; 2; 3; 4 ).
posted by adamvasco (32 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Let Israel deal with it. It's their backyard.
posted by Renoroc at 6:36 AM on September 20, 2011


How about acknowledging that the history of Western interference in the Middle East is so rife with corruption and hypocrisy, so saturated with the blood of innocents, that we are literally the last people who should be bloviating about our moral responsibility to the region's inhabitants?

Dilemma resolved.
posted by Trurl at 6:41 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I remember, back in 1991 after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, arguing in favour of war as a lesser evil for the Iraqi population, compared with protracted sanctions.

Of course, the Iraqis ended up with not just one, but two wars, as well as more than ten years of Saddam and sanctions inbetween, plus terrible unrest and repression after each war. Poor people.

No, there is no right answer.
posted by Skeptic at 6:48 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


But how can we make the story of the Middle East about us?
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:48 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think sanctions is the way to go... this way more ordinary people would suffer
posted by natalitza at 6:50 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure George Monbiot will discover and advocate the most dick-ish solution.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:08 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let Israel deal with it. It's their backyard.

I'm sure they'll be greeted as liberators.
posted by delmoi at 7:11 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Isn't is more Iran's backyard?
posted by rosswald at 7:15 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The problem with Iraq was not overthrowing Saddam in 1991 while despite much 'progressive' hand wringing NATO support for the rebels in Libya allowed them to overthrow Gaddafi's dictatorship when the alternative was standing aside and watching them get slaughtered. The West should be much stronger in its condemnation of Assad's brutal regime and do everything it can to isolate it and signal support for the opposition. Assad is backed by Russia, just like his equally evil father was backed by the Soviets, and we should be equally clear about whose side we are on. The problems in the middle east are not caused by the West, nor are they caused by Israel. They are caused by the misrule of petty, brutal tyrants and we should do everything we can to support the 'Arab Spring'. The murder of more than 50 protesters in Yemen over the last couple of days should also be high on the agenda.
posted by joannemullen at 7:20 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


No, there is no right answer.

Maybe, but we can eliminate some wrong answers. Based on efficacy sanctions cannot be the right answer.

Sanctions did not dislodge Saddam Hussein. Sanctions do not dislodge Hamas. Sanctions do not make Iranians turn to coal for their future energy needs. Sanctions result in official corruption and cause pain and suffering and poverty amongst the general population - which even if the desired result - has not resulted in any change of political trajectory.
posted by three blind mice at 7:27 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


We already have sanctions against Syria administered by the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) and controls on many exports administered by the Dept. of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). At this point, the only things you can expect* to be able to sell to Syria are food and (and some) medicine. Extending the sanctions beyond where they are now will be more of an attack on the people of Syria than on its government. I don't think that's the right thing to do.



*In theory you can ask for a license for other things but your chances of getting one are fiarly slim.
posted by tommasz at 7:34 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are essentially three options: (1) start dropping bombs; (2) apply a sanctions regime; (3) do nothing.

The result of number 1: Crap. The result of number 2, some crap, potentially some good; The result of number 3: Crap.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:03 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are essentially three options:

There is another rarely mentioned option. Stop the international trade in arms. Impose severe trade sanctions the countries that do trade in arms. (I believe last week my current country of residence hosted a gather of evil where they expelled some manufactures not for being evil but for being just a little too evil).

But that is just me being naive and thinking that the supposedly peace loving western should stop mass producing and exporting weapons that only get used for evil.

Without tanks and guns tyrants are just naked men.
posted by srboisvert at 8:11 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Arrrrrrrgh! If only typos were a weapon for peace!
posted by srboisvert at 8:13 AM on September 20, 2011


The problems in the middle east are not caused by the West, nor are they caused by Israel. They are caused by the misrule of petty, brutal tyrants and we should do everything we can to support the 'Arab Spring'.

The United States has played a role in supporting those petty, brutal tyrants, in the interest of maintaining governments which they can influence in order to maintain some influence upon the most strategic of all materials POL (petroleum, oil, lubricants).

Therefore we should support the Arab Spring. Not with bombs, however.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:16 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are essentially three options:

There is another rarely mentioned option. Stop the international trade in arms. Impose severe trade sanctions the countries that do trade in arms. (I believe last week my current country of residence hosted a gather of evil where they expelled some manufactures not for being evil but for being just a little too evil).

But that is just me being naive and thinking that the supposedly peace loving western should stop mass producing and exporting weapons that only get used for evil.

Without tanks and guns tyrants are just naked men.


Russia will not stop selling arms to Syria.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:18 AM on September 20, 2011


(Reuters) - Russia's top arms exporter said on Wednesday it intended to continue selling weapons to Syria, despite calls from the United States for Moscow to halt its weapons trade with Damascus
posted by Ironmouth at 8:19 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Three blind mice nailed it. Trade sanctions just do not work.

Sanctions block legitimate trade, causing economic damage to those who obey the rules. Generally speaking, these are not people with whom there is an issue. Their suffering is of little genuine concern to the leadership of targeted nations.

Sanctions have proven, time and again, to be a paper tiger. Entities with the ability to circumvent sanctions do so, and do so with impunity. These are largely corrupt institutions, run by the corrupt leaders of nations on whom sanctions are placed. Because of the artificial scarcity, these corrupt entities can gouge their populations for the maximum amount possible. This is certainly counter productive; enriching those who make and influence a nation's policies is not an enticement to change policies, quite the opposite.

Sanctions are easy to blame for a population's hardship. This has the unintended consequence of strengthening leadership positions, not weakening them.

Sanctions damage existing and future economic and commercial relationships. If and when sanctions are lifted, those who have not played by the rules have an advantage.

Sanctions are a feel-good solution that are ineffective and counter productive.
posted by Xoebe at 10:38 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


>The problems in the middle east are not caused by the West, nor are they caused by Israel. They are caused by the misrule of petty, brutal tyrants and we should do everything we can to support the 'Arab Spring'.

The United States has played a role in supporting those petty, brutal tyrants, in the interest of maintaining governments which they can influence in order to maintain some influence upon the most strategic of all materials POL (petroleum, oil, lubricants).


Wait, the US has supported the Syrian regime?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:44 AM on September 20, 2011


I like the idea of sanctions as it clearly signals that the US/Europe don't support the regime. I think solidifying this is important.

Also, if as I understand, the sanctions are targeting things like Syria's oil industry, then eroding Assad's support among the monied-elite can only be a good thing.
posted by rosswald at 11:01 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do sanctions work? According to this Independent article, researchers say they have worked in about a third of the cases. Among the successes are South Africa (ended apartheid), Yugoslavia (ended the Bosnian war), Libya (stopped the nuclear program).

Those odds are good enough for me, especially as UN-mandated sanctions also send a clear signal to an oppressed people that they are not alone.
posted by Triplanetary at 12:00 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Syria through the sniper’s sights: Defected sniper tells of shoot-to-kill orders given to soldiers cracking down on pro-democracy protesters in southern Syria.
posted by homunculus at 1:49 PM on September 20, 2011


Because economic sanctions fail to consistently and effectively achieve foreign policy objectives, they undermine governmental legitimacy by failing to significantly impact the well being of the people, nor to increase their security or potential for prosperity. They therefore fail to satisfy the value of justice (via)
posted by adamvasco at 2:52 PM on September 20, 2011


33% is better than nothing.

A global arms embargo would be good, but we'd need extraterrestrials to enforce it.
posted by warbaby at 3:59 PM on September 20, 2011


What Mr. Monbiot fails to address is "why just Syria"? There are plenty of other despots in the region? Should Bahrain not be top of the list in terms of per capita deaths and brutality (doctors being arrested and tortured for giving medical aid to protesters)? Bahrain has also resorted to the Saudi military and Pakistani mercenaries to oppress the majority of the people that live there. I guess what sets Syria apart is that it has no oil ... nor does Jordan though, but Rania is so beautiful, she must be queen and her hubby is half-British, so that's out of the question, old chap.

Additionally, sanctions will have a disproportionate and adverse effect on the rank and file, while the leadership will largely be immunized from their effect. Enforcing sanctions won't be totally effective (with smugglers profiting from circumventing them), and could potentially make millions suffer, as happened in Iraq. That is not something I would want on my conscience.
posted by Azaadistani at 11:44 PM on September 20, 2011


Azaadistani - Syria does have oil only it's not American controlled.
Monbiots question here is specifically about Syria.
Bahrain is a US protectorate / fleetbase so nothing will be allowed to rock the proverbial boat there.
In Iraq over 500,000 deaths - mainly children - are directly attributed to sanctions. (wiki)
More
posted by adamvasco at 2:05 AM on September 21, 2011


History : http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2011/06/the_baby_and_the_baath_water.html
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 3:08 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thousands of years of evolution and still all we do is steal, lie, cheat and kill. That's some depressing shit right there.
posted by dougrayrankin at 4:17 PM on September 21, 2011


New evidence of Syria brutality emerges as woman's mutilated body is found
posted by homunculus at 5:17 PM on September 23, 2011


Fleeing Syrian activists are finding a haven in Libya
posted by homunculus at 5:30 PM on September 23, 2011


Turkey imposes arms embargo on Syria: "A Syrian-flagged ship already stopped" as part of sanctions announced by former ally in response to Assad's crackdown.
posted by homunculus at 12:14 PM on September 24, 2011


China and Russia have vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria over its crackdown on anti-government protesters.
posted by homunculus at 7:01 PM on October 4, 2011


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