During the first presidential debate, on Monday evening, September 26, Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton boasted of her support for tough sanctions on Iran:
I spent a year and a half putting together a coalition that included Russia and China to impose the toughest sanctions on Iran . . . And we did drive them to the negotiating table and my successor, John Kerry, and President Obama got a deal that put a lid on Iran’s nuclear program. Without firing a single shot. That’s diplomacy.
How many of her supporters, upon hearing this nod to the diplomatic track, thought Hillary’s anti-Iran zeal was another compelling reason to vote for her and one more shining example of her leadership panache? After all, she knows a thing or two about how to get things done, and standing up to those tricky mullahs in Tehran is what any president worth her salt has to do. Wasn’t Iran “weeks away from having enough nuclear material to form a bomb” with which to decimate Europe along with Iran’s historical rival — Israel?
Well, if you listen to Hillary tell it, you might very well believe she’s got her proverbial finger on the truth and is prepared to stand tall in the face of the Iranian menace. And what better way to keep this citadel of evil firmly in place than by slapping ironclad sanctions on its unctuous rulers. It bears repeating: Hillary has experience. She knows how to get things done whether as the First Lady with our “first black president” Bill Clinton, then as a New York senator, and, under Obama, as Secretary of State. It was her husband who maintained sanctions on Iraq for the entire duration of his presidency. So she knows how effective they can be in achieving foreign policy goals, like keeping Saddam in a box or preventing the doomsday weapon from falling into Iran’s hands.
What she failed to mention during the recent debate is the catastrophic effect sanctions had on Iran’s economy and its civilian population. Sanctions were only lifted in July 2015 when the United States and various world powers finalized an agreement with Iran to “limit Tehran’s nuclear ability for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions.”On the very same day the deal took effect, Hillary called for even more sanctions. Hard to beat that for chutzpah.
I may not have her experience as a Capital Hill bigwig, but I know a thing or two about sanctions and how they impact, not just the government of the targeted country but the people as well. Having spent the better part of a decade traveling to and from Iraq during the sanctions years as a humanitarian activist and seeing up front and personal the deadly toll they were taking on the most vulnerable members of Iraqi society, I am distressed that one of our so-called leaders and this season’s leading presidential contender (if the soothsayers are correct) would take credit for imposing tough sanctions on Iran. If we take Hillary at her word, then one can understand why she would take credit for a policy that brought Iran to the negotiating table and, from her standpoint, prevented it from building a nuclear weapon. However, notwithstanding her claims, the evidence simply doesn’t back her up. In 2007 a National Intelligence Estimate concluded, based on intelligence findings available at that time, that “in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program . . . . ”Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state lasted from 2009 to 2013. In 2010 she began her work to have sanctions imposed on Iran.
According to various sources, including Global Research, sanctions were crippling Iran’s economy and having their deadliest impact on civilians just as they did in Iraq where over half-a-million children died from the medical consequences of malnutrition and easily preventable water-borne diseases, among other causes related to sanctions. The United States first imposed sanctions in 1979 when the Iranian Revolution brought Ayatollah Khomeini, a Shia Muslim religious figure, into power as the supreme leader of the world’s first Islamic republic. Over the following decades, sanctions “increased in scope and severity.” Thanks to Hillary’s dedicated nurturing of the sanctions regime, and in particular the set of draconian sanctions she spearheaded in 2012, Iran’s major source of income — oil exports — was severely blocked. In a speech she gave in 2012, Hillary had this to say about her handiwork:
We convinced all 27 nations of the European Union to stop importing Iranian oil and all 20 major global importers of Iranian oil – including Japan, India, China, and Turkey – to make significant cuts . . . Iran today exports more than one million fewer barrels of crude each day than it did just last year. Iran’s currency is worth less than half of what it was last November.
As a “long-time advocate for crippling sanctions against Iran,” Hillary voted in favor of every sanctions bill that came before the Senate during her two terms there. Like her husband, she remains either blind or merely indifferent to the suffering that sanctions are capable of inflicting, especially among the most vulnerable, who are least able to influence the decisions of their leaders, especially in a non-democracy like Iran. Restricting a country’s access to its most essential source of foreign revenue is the equivalent of driving a stake into the heart of that country’s economy. But it’s not the political leadership who will do the bleeding and dying. The severe cutback in oil exports that Hillary is apparently proud of orchestrating had a deadly impact on the lives of ordinary Iranian citizens, since the government could scarcely finance “infrastructural work, social and welfare services, hospitals, schools, universities, state employees’ salaries and pensions.” By 2012, under sanctions, the value of Iran’s currency had declined by 80 percent. At the same time, the prices of raw materials, spare parts, foodstuffs, machinery, and medicine rose precipitously. Unemployment likewise rose as many businesses and factories had to shut down.
Possibly the most painful effect of the sanctions against Iran occurred in relation to healthcare and the availability of drugs to treat life-threatening illnesses, such as heart, lung, and kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, and cancer, particularly leukemia, which had become rampant in Iran. A devalued currency coupled with the high cost of raw materials necessary for the production of pharmaceuticals resulted in severe shortages of essential medicines. For example, the effective treatment of patients diagnosed with hemophilia requires anticoagulant drugs. But under sanctions, these drugs became unavailable, and thousands of surgeries had to be cancelled. One physician, the head of Iran’s Hemophilia Society, had this to say about how sanctions were affecting the practice of medicine in his country:
This is a blatant hostage-taking of the most vulnerable people by countries which claim they care about human rights. Even a few days of delay can have serious consequences, like hemorrhage and disability.
Hillary’s touting of her role in bringing Iran to the bargaining table through the application of stringent economic sanctions is, to my mind, an endorsement of collective punishment. A closer look at the reality of sanctions, beyond its somewhat sterile connotations as an effective tool against recalcitrant governments, reveals a world of pain for innocent people. There is no single payer health insurance; therefore, the most important way for people to obtain coverage is through their place of work. In April 2016, Iran’s deputy interior minister stated that, even with the lifting of many economic sanctions,
unemployment currently stands at between 40 and 60 percent in approximately 420 entire counties. This contributes to a situation in which 15 million of Iran’s 78 million people are reportedly deprived of even the most basic social services.
The same official added that “10 million people are currently living in what could be described as slums . . . .”
In the West, officials argued that sanctions “are aimed at punishing the Iranian regime in the hope of forcing it to comply with international rules over its disputed nuclear [program], but many Iranians see things differently.” Having witnessed how economic sanctions devastated Iraqi society, I would agree with the viewpoint of ordinary Iranians: The sanctions were a form of economic warfare whose ultimate purpose, in Iran as well as Iraq, was to make life miserable for the greatest number of people in the futile and morally repugnant expectation that their suffering would prompt them to rise up against the government and accomplish what Washington’s neoconservative warriors have wanted all along — regime change.
Hillary is no stranger to regime change. During her much-ballyhooed career, she’s been instrumental in the demise of governments unacceptable to the US and their replacement by regimes more amenable to our trade policies and/or geopolitical interests. And in each case, the results have been abysmal: violence, repression,and chaos. And yet, with Election Day fast approaching, the heat is on to take a deep breath, hold our collective nose, and cast our ballot for the Queen of Chaos, the honorific title bestowed upon Lady Hillary by progressive writer Diana Johnstone. Some highly reputable and influential lefties argue with a great deal of brio that defeating Donald Trump must be our foremost goal, even if it means voting for someone like Hillary. As president, she islikely to do much less harm than a President Trump. Besides, what really matters is growing and sustaining a grassroots movement to challenge “business as usual,” and the wrecking ball ideology and nefarious schemes of Deep State hobgoblins.
Okay, I get it. But come Election Day, I doubt I will be able to summon whatever it takes to cast my vote for Hillary. The Clinton name, whether preceded by “Hillary” or “Bill,” never fails to conjure up images of the many seriously ill children I saw in Iraqi hospitals where the sanctions regime maintained by Billand endorsed by Hillary was a death sentence for these children. The drugs they needed to stay alive were simply not available thanks in large measure to the UN’s 661 Committee, which determined what Iraq was allowed to import, and to the concerted efforts of Bill Clinton and his junior partner in the UK to continue the sanctionsuntil Saddam was gone, regardless of how many innocent Iraqis died in the process.
How many children in Iran suffered a similar fate as a consequence of the sanctions Hillary brags about? In Greek mythology, Pandora — not Eve — was the first woman on Earth. Her creation was ordered by Zeus as a way to punish that upstart Prometheus for stealing fire from the gods and handing it over to the humans. In addition to her intoxicating, irresistible beauty, she was given a jar filled with evils of all sorts and warned never to open it. But that’s exactly what she did when her innate curiosity got the better of her. From the one act of disobedience has come all the miseries and afflictions that continue to beset humanity.
Hillary, our very own version of Pandora, has loosed so much suffering in the course of her unwavering support for the hegemonic pursuits of the Empire. Her approval of Israel’s aggression against Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 is further evidence that she is unworthy of our support. Hundreds of Palestinian children died during 51 days of aerial bombardment by the Israeli Defense Forces. The United Nations Human Rights Council convened a commission of inquiry, which concluded that “Israel, and to a lesser extent Palestinian armed groups, had likely committed violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, some constituting war crimes.” But by the light shining ever so brightly from Hillary’s moral compass, Israel “did what it had to do to respond to the [Hamas] rockets.” One looks in vain for even a smidgeon of compassion for the victims of Israel’s crimes to say nothing of those who have been crushed under the boots of US imperialism.
Come Election Day, when I enter the curtained booth at my polling location, I will be thinking of those victims — from Palestine, Iran, and Iraq to Honduras, Yugoslavia, and Ukraine — and mark my ballot accordingly.
George Capaccio is a writer and activist living in Arlington, MA. During the years of US- and UK-enforced sanctions against Iraq, he traveled there numerous times, bringing in banned items, befriending families in Baghdad, and deepening his understanding of how the sanctions were impacting civilians. His email is Georgecapaccio@verizon.net. He welcomes comments and invites readers to visit his website: www.georgecapaccio.com