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Truthdigger of the Week: Andrew Cockburn

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Posted on Sep 15, 2013
osipovva (CC BY 2.0)

By Alexander Reed Kelly

(Page 2)

The list ends with “echoes” that Cockburn says “recur in less statistically obvious ways. Aircraft are crashing in greater numbers, largely because of an ongoing shortage of long-embargoed spare parts. Crime and drug addiction are growing exponentially, there being absolutely no shortage of narcotics, especially heroin from nearby Afghanistan, but also cocaine, the perquisite of the rich. Just as sanctioned Iraqis found a class of “new billionaires” flaunting their wealth in the midst of want, so sanctions are enriching a similar class of Iranians, not only drug dealers but smugglers, refinery operators, and other profiteers.”

The U.S. did not always use sanctions so effectively. Up until the mid-’90s, their fundamental flaw was that their effectiveness required the cooperation of other nations. Cuba survived decades of U.S. embargo because the rest of the world saw no reason to join in. That ended, Cockburn writes, “when the United States learned to use its dominance of the international financial system as a weapon.” David Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence and the overall supervisor of American sanctions operations through the Office of Foreign Assets Control, described the tactic of threatening to block foreign banks’ access to U.S. financial markets if they dealt with Iranian banks as a “vigorous outreach and education effort.” An example of what happens to offenders was made when a Dutch bank received an $80 million fine for processing transactions for Iranian and Libyan banks. Total fines for sanctions infractions by foreign banks have risen to hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years. In order to prevent unwitting violations, many banks and major corporations hurriedly expanded their “compliance” departments, a trend that brought OFAC veterans directly into their offices, serving to reinforce this new particular culture of compliance.

Thanks to the embedding of a slew of what Cohen calls “innovative tools” in corporate, legal and governmental organizations, an unquestioning disposition in favor of sanctions has developed in a new, resilient bureaucracy. And its aims are described in the most irritatingly establishmentarian language, conspicuously proud of itself amid its indifference to the human havoc it causes. “We have in place now,” Cockburn cites Cohen declaring in September 2012, “an enormously powerful set of sanctions at home and around the world. It retains its essential conduct-based foundation as it broadens out to target an ever more comprehensive set of Iranian commercial and financial activities.” Members of Congress love it too, as sanctions present a de facto way to wield another foreign policy.

The people who wage undeclared war with sanctions are transparent about their aims in the enthusiastic manner we’ve come to expect from the ideal American businessman-cum-barbarian. Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Orwellian D.C. think tank the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, informed Cockburn that “the aim of sanctions is to try and bring the Iranian economy to the brink of economic collapse and, in doing so, create fear on the part of the Supreme Leader and [his Revolutionary Guards] that economic collapse will lead to political collapse and the end of their regime. ... We’re trying to break the nuclear will of a hardened ideologue.” This is simple business to ambitious men like Dubowitz, and they want the admiration and rewards that come with a job well done. And an expanding sanctions bureaucracy means that sanction imposing has become a pursuit unto itself. Exhibiting similar amorality about what they were doing, comments made by CIA officials involved in the Iraq sanctions of the ’90s led Cockburn to write that “the impoverishment of Iraq was not a means to an end, it was the end.”

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Cockburn tells the story of a massive bureaucratic weapon that, for the the majority if not all of its existence, has been used by petty functionaries seeking to build their careers and people in business looking for legal ways to manipulate markets to the effect of maintaining and increasing their control over profits. Although the machine is impersonal, the consequences are deeply human, and in the ugliest ways imaginable. Many of the “hordes of skinny and bloated children” who survived the sanctions imposed on Germany after World War I grew up to support a dictator who promised them deliverance from their suffering. U.S. leaders have helped build identical conditions in the Middle East since World War II, offering evil more than enough opportunities to enter the world through the minds and bodies of desperate people. For giving the public a chance to grasp one of the ways this is happening, we honor Andrew Cockburn as our Truthdigger of the Week.


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