US sanctions only make Arab people supportive of dictatorships

Patrick Young
Patrick L Young is CEO of niche crowdfunding platform HanzaTrade and an advisor to fund managers throughout the world. Born in Ireland, he is an active investor in the “New Europe” amongst other emerging markets and is an active Co Founder of grassroots startup group "Mission ToRun." Home Page: http://patricklyoung.net Twitter: @FrontierFinance
US sanctions only make Arab people supportive of dictatorships
The Arab spring has demonstrated that people are not craving democracy, they want to improve their lifestyles. And in that sense sanctions only alienate them from the US and its policies.

Overall the situation with sanctions being applied to any country by the US is driven by that country being perceived to have lost in the court of American public opinion. Therefore sanctions are applied to nations viewed as being pariahs, a view often manipulated by politicians, such as Joe Biden in the case of Serbia (where the Kosovo ‘war’ that resulted led to Al Qaeda training camps being established in Europe).

However on many levels sanctions simply do not work effectively. In an interconnected world where we have so much globalization it's almost impossible for any single country, even a hyper power like the US, to be able to successfully stop trade and transactions happening with different countries from the nearly 200 in the world, many not even recognised by the UN. Leaders invariably get the products they want from a third party nation. Therefore the end result has only been to impoverish the ordinary citizens rather than really hitting the elite or ultimately endangering the power of the same elite.

Syria exemplifies the great power politics we've seen throughout history. Some countries are regarded as being allies or satellites of particular nations, while others are poorly regarded and often become pariah states. Indeed it's very difficult sometimes to work out why in one case a particular country ends up being set on a sanctions regime. Frequently it is the degree of superpower comfort with the regime itself. The Shah of Iran was someone who the Americans saw as an ally, supporting them, giving them information. On the other hand the post revolution fundamentalist regime of Iran has clearly been in some degree of purdah pretty much all the time that they've been in power. Neither has treated Iranian citizens with equanimity.

Syrian army forces load a machine gun mounted at the back of a vehicle in the Syrian Christian town of Maaloula on Septamber 7, 2013 (AFP Photo / Str)

The balance of superpower/supplicant relationships is a complex one, driven by the great powers themselves and the nature of the relationship of that hyper power or great power has remained unchanged whether it's the US in the 21st century or Great Britain or the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century.

At all times superpowers, particularly unitary superpowers like the US, need to tread very carefully. There have been instances in recent years where it was to some degree justifiable why they would take particular action. It's understandable that they felt terrible anger, a veritable national trauma, after the horrible events of 9/11. At the same time increasingly there is an argument to suggest that the US has overplayed its hand as has the UK, due to the fact that wars have been waged on ‘sexed-up’ dossiers erroneously suggesting particular odious dictators have actually held weapons of mass destruction. It's a very tricky situation because ultimately intervening ‘supranationally’ is very difficult to justify in any possible circumstance and certainly without the agreement of the UN Security Council.

Under sanctions, it is the ordinary people who cannot get sophisticated medicines for their ailments or other ‘normal’ goods which people in the West take for granted. Sanctions can restrict imports but ultimately the globalizing nature of the economy allows for the huge substitution effect for all kind of different products from throughout the world. Right now it may be difficult for Mrs Assad to visit Rue Faubourg St Honore in Paris or London’s Knightsbridge and buy the latest designer frocks but it does not materially affect her life. The people who suffer are the normal people of the streets and the actions of the superpowers often leads to alienation from the superpower causing the supply bottleneck. To that end, action against a dictator like Milosevic in Serbia ended up with a large number of people, even those who would normally have been against his regime, being extremely upset at the American regime when they suffered sanctions and were even bombed.

We have to understand that a world is not a simplistic place. There is no huge craving for democracy in the Middle East. And that's fundamentally a problem of the sanctions regime of America. What has been demonstrated by the Arab spring? It's actually people wanting commerce to improve their lifestyles. In that sense people want to replicate the trade success of the US, and they feel very upset when sanctions come in and hurt their lifestyles.

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