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8 Oct, 2019 23:27

‘Sanctions from hell’ good but tariffs terrible? Washington’s embargo obsession shows lack of ideas

‘Sanctions from hell’ good but tariffs terrible? Washington’s embargo obsession shows lack of ideas

The Washington establishment is now threatening sanctions against NATO ally Turkey if it moves against the US-allied Kurdish militias in Syria, once again showing that coercion is the only arrow in its policy quiver.

Both Democrats and Republicans spoke up against President Donald Trump’s decision on Monday to move back some of the US troops stationed – illegally – in Syria, declaring that this would be a death knell to the Kurdish militias the US has used as boots on the ground against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists.

Trump himself threatened to “totally destroy and obliterate” the Turkish economy if Ankara did anything he considered “off limits,” but that was not enough for Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina). Though often Trump’s ally on matters domestic, the unrepentant foreign policy hawk threatened Turkey on Tuesday with “sanctions from hell… wide, deep and devastating” if it enters northern Syria.

This is not the first time the South Carolina senator has threatened “sanctions from hell.” He used that exact phrase to promote his proposed sanctions against Russia, back in February. Who knows what would have happened if the ‘Russiagate’ conspiracy theory hadn’t crashed and burned soon thereafter. 

Sanctions are a bipartisan affair in Washington. Only two senators voted against the sweeping CAATSA bill in July 2017, for example. Contrast that to the opposition to tariffs, when 88 voted against Trump’s trade wars in July 2018 – though to be fair, Graham was one of the 11 defending the president.

Yet tariffs are a mere tax on trade, while sanctions prohibit it entirely.  Arguably, sanctions are war by other means. Journalist Max Blumenthal describes them as “financial terrorism, a high-tech medieval siege.” 

At the heart of this policy is a premise, accepted by the US political elite unquestioningly, that their country is the rightful master of the world and anyone who dares to disagree is a rogue state that must be beaten into submission. 

Before you blame the Bad Orange Man, however, note that this worldview long predates him. Back in March 1999, at the height of neoliberal globalism, Thomas Friedman preached in the New York Times that “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist.”

And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

One thing you are never, ever supposed to ask is whether the sanctions actually work. Noticing that the longest-running embargoes – against Cuba (1962) and Iran (1979) – have done nothing to change either the “regimes” in Havana and Tehran or their behavior, probably amounts to a hate crime. 

Also on rt.com Our knee-jerk Russia sanctions hurt our interests, time to get smarter, former US envoy to Moscow says

Only after he resigned as the US ambassador to Moscow did Jon Huntsman dare say that US sanctions against Russia have been ineffective, and even harmful to Washington’s interests.

“Russians have accepted that US sanctions will probably remain in place for the long term, inevitably distorting the market as Russians create alternative supply chains that aren’t always conducive to American interests,” Huntsman wrote in an opinion piece published by the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

Turkey’s reaction to Graham’s “sanctions from hell” proposal seems to be developing along the same lines. Ankara’s ambassador to Washington, Serdar Kilic, called them “undue threats to a KEY NATO ALLY.”

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When every policy is either a carrot or a stick, everyone looks like a donkey. If the US was serious about “diversity,” it would look for a wider range of opinion, tools and policies.

Nebojsa Malic, senior writer at RT

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.