Now Is the Time to Cancel Sanctions on Iran

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has often declared that he considers himself to be a devout evangelical Christian, and in November 2019 told the New York Times Magazine that the Bible “informs everything I do.”

Given that his religious convictions are based on the Bible, he is doubtless familiar with the command from Philippians 2:4 that everyone should “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” and the equally caring instruction from Matthew 5:42 that we should “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” If we all abided by such injunctions the amount of human suffering would be reduced and the world would undoubtedly be a better place – but in spite of Secretary Pompeo’s devout attention to the word of the Bible it seems that his Christian caring is somewhat selective.

In the case of Iran, in its present state of internal strife and individual privation, Mr. Pompeo is not “giving to the one who asks you” but rather taking away people’s dignity by intensifying Washington’s existing sanctions. As the BBC noted last December, “The United States reinstated economic sanctions on Iran after President Donald Trump abandoned a landmark nuclear deal in May 2018. Mr. Trump says he wants to apply “maximum pressure” on the government in Tehran to compel it to renegotiate the accord.”

As Juan Cole reminds us, the targeting of Iran in the most malevolent (and hardly Christian) fashion was supposed to end in 2015 when the government in Tehran “accepted severe measures that made it impossible for them ever to decide to militarize their nuclear program. In return, they were to see all economic sanctions lifted. After the US signed the Joint Collective Plan for Action, the Republican Senate never allowed US sanctions to lapse, and constantly threatened European concerns with heavy fines and sanctions if they did business with Iran. So Iran gave up everything and got almost nothing. Nevertheless, the government faithfully complied with the deal. Then in 2018 Trump abruptly breached the treaty that the US signed, despite Iran’s compliance with all of its provisions, and slapped the most brutal sanctions on Iran ever applied by one country to another in peacetime.”

Life is dreadful for ordinary Iranians, and although President Rouhani “managed to get inflation down to 9% in 2017, the IMF estimated that it soared to 30.5% in 2018 and projected that it would reach 35.7% in 2019.” The World Bank records that the effects have been especially harsh in the food sector, “with meat products 116% more expensive year-on-year in April 2019, and that the rural population has been disproportionately affected.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a shattering effect on Iranians, and it must be highlighted that much of the blame for the staggeringly speedy spread of the virus in the country undoubtedly rests with a government that is demonstrably incompetent and even willfully negligent. Two Iranian doctors, in exile from their country, wrote in the New York Times that “The official response was glaring denial of the magnitude of the crisis,” while the religiously fanatical “supreme leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had even “accused the country’s enemies of exaggerating the threat of the coronavirus.”

Perhaps the US and some of the Gulf States did exaggerate the possible effects on Iran – but independent analysts have painted a credibly catastrophic picture of what has happened so far, and of what in all probability lies ahead for Khamenei’s stricken nation.

Even before the onslaught of Covid-19, Human Rights Watch had warned that sanctions had “drastically constrained the ability of the country to finance humanitarian imports, including medicines, causing serious hardships for ordinary Iranians and threatening their right to health.” Now surely, when such an objective assessment is publicized, those responsible for anti-Iran sanctions might have considered relaxing them when Covid struck?

But no. The Christian Bible’s counsel that all good people should “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” is somehow non-applicable when Iran is concerned. On 17 March Reuters reported that “The United States imposed fresh sanctions on Iran, keeping up its economic pressure campaign even as it offered to help Tehran cope with the coronavirus pandemic and called on the Islamic Republic to release detained Americans. . . Pompeo said the step included blacklisting Iran’s armed forces social security investment company and its director for investing in sanctioned entities.”

Pompeo followed up by declaring that “The Wuhan virus is a killer and the Iranian regime is an accomplice”, in spite of Reuters reporting 18,407 Covid-19 cases and 1,284 deaths. However incompetent the Teheran regime of religious loonies may be, it is hardly likely to be “an accomplice” in spreading death within its own country. As the Washington Post noted, “The virus has struck the political elite, with dozens of officials infected and parliament members and an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader among the dead.”

Pompeo’s declaration that “There is no sanction on medicines going to Iran, there is no sanctions on humanitarian assistance going into that country. They’ve got a terrible problem there and we want that humanitarian, medical assistance to get to the people of Iran,” was rejected by Tehran, understandably enough – because it is only too obvious that existing sanctions were blocking “every financial channel available to Iran for buying food and pharmaceuticals.” A detailed report by Human Rights Watch documented “how broad restrictions on financial transactions, coupled with aggressive rhetoric from United States officials, have drastically constrained the ability of Iranian entities to finance humanitarian imports, including vital medicines and medical equipment.”

In February last year Pompeo told CBS News that the effect of sanctions was that “things are much worse for the Iranian people and we are convinced that will lead the Iranian people to rise up and change the behavior of the regime,” which is exactly what Washington’s campaign is all about.

Human Rights Watch found that sanctions “are causing unnecessary suffering to Iranian citizens afflicted with a range of diseases and medical conditions. Some of the worst affected are Iranians who have rare diseases and/or conditions that require specialized treatment and are unable to acquire previously available medicines or supplies. This includes patients with leukemia, epidermolysis bullosa . . . epilepsy, and chronic eye injuries from exposure to chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war.”

The world has been told by Pompeo that the US wants “medical assistance to get to the people of Iran” but as we see on the ground, in reality, there is nothing being sent by the Washington Administration – which in any event is barely capable of combating Covid-19 within the US itself, there being a massive shortage of protective clothing. The people of Iran are being victimized by a set of vicious U.S.-imposed sanctions intended solely to make them suffer to the point that they will “rise up” against their government.

So it seems that the Christian Pompeo, he who is proud that the Bible “informs everything I do”, is reluctant to abide by the instructions in Ephesians 4:32 that Believers should “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another . . .” because he is an unforgiving martinet intent on supporting his president in destroying innocent Iranian citizens. Last year he actually rejoiced that “things are much worse for the Iranian people.” In other words he is a malevolent hypocrite.

The time has come for Trump and Pompeo to cancel US sanctions on Iran and thereby save at least some lives. The world would be a better place.

Brian Cloughley is author of A History of the Pakistan Army. Reprinted with author’s permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.