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Sanctions Are an Act of War

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If the Pentagon suddenly bombed North Korea, killing thousands of North Korean citizens, that would clearly be considered an act of war. Yet, when the U.S. government intentionally targets North Korea with economic sanctions that kill thousands of North Koreans through starvation or illness, that’s considered to be simply a peaceful diplomatic measure. That’s odd because from a practical standpoint, people are dead either way — from bombs or sanctions.

Americans have become so accustomed to the concept of sanctions that the policy has become hum-drum and commonplace. Since the violence associated with sanctions is indirect and difficult to see, people don’t put them in the same category as bombs. But the reality is that sanctions, by virtue of their targeting foreign citizens for death, are every bit an act of war as dropping bombs on them.

North Korea is quite possibly the most impoverished nation on earth. Suffering for decades under a brutal socialist economic system (one in which the government takes care of everyone with guaranteed retirement pensions, healthcare, education, employment, housing, and food), the populace is always starving or on the verge of starvation.

What do U.S. sanctions do? They make the economic suffering of the North Korean people even worse. And that’s what they are designed to do — to inflict maximum harm on North Koreans in the hopes of starving them and their children to death.

The idea is twofold: (1) If the North Koreans are dying or watching their children die, they will do what is necessary to oust the North Korean regime and replace it with a regime that is pro-U.S. or (2) the North Korean regime, faced with a rising death toll among the North Korean people from starvation of illness, will abdicate in favor of a pro-U.S. regime or simply agree to do the bidding of U.S. officials.

Either way, the North Korean people are the pawns in all this. They are the ones who are targeted for death by U.S. officials and their sanctions.

Of course, this is not the only time that U.S. officials have targeted the civilian populace of a nation as a way to achieve a political goal. Sanctions have become a popular foreign-policy tool of U.S. officials, especially against Third World nations, which lack the ability to retaliate.

Recall the U.S. regime-change operation in Chile from 1970 to 1973. Somehow concluding that the Chilean people’s election of a self-avowed Marxist as president was a threat to U.S. “national security,” U.S. officials targeted Chile for a U.S. regime-change operation. As part of the regime-change plan, the CIA did everything it could to make the Chilean economy “scream.”

What that meant was that the CIA secretly engaged in actions designed to bring maximum economic suffering to the Chilean people, including starvation, as reflected by a scheme by which the CIA secretly bribed the nation’s truckers into going on strike, thereby preventing the delivery of food to people all across the country. The idea was that by killing the Chilean people or their children, that would make them more amenable to a military coup, which ultimately came in 1973.

Recall the 11 years of brutal U.S. sanctions on Iraq. They targeted and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. Yes, children, not one of whom ever initiated any violence against the United States. The goal? Again, regime change. The idea was that if the Iraqi people wanted to avoid the ever-increasing death toll of their children, they could oust Saddam Hussein from power and install a regime that was acceptable to U.S. officials. Alternatively, the idea was that Saddam Hussein, if he cared about the Iraqi children, would abdicate in favor of a pro-U.S. regime or simply agree to comply with U.S. dictates.

One of the fascinating aspects of the Iraqi sanctions was the indifference among U.S. officials to the death toll among children. It just didn’t matter to them that they were killing children. In their minds, they were just enforcing sanctions —  i.e., rules and regulations. Their mindsets were a perfect demonstration of what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.”

When U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright was asked whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children were worth it, she responded that while the matter was a difficult one, yes, the deaths were in fact “worth it.” No U.S. official, including her boss Bill Clinton, who some perceived as a great humanitarian, condemned Albright’s position. For that matter, neither did very many editorial or op-ed writers in the U.S. mainstream press.

In fact, the position of U.S. officials was that the deaths of those Iraqi children were actually the fault of Iraqi parents and Saddam Hussein. Their reasoning was that since the Iraqi people could revolt at any time and since Saddam Hussein could comply with U.S. dictates at any time, their failure to do so placed responsibility for the children’s deaths in their hands, not the hands of the U.S. bureaucrats who were enforcing their sanctions.

Consider the decades-long U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. It is targeted against the Cuban people, with the aim of achieving regime change on the island. U.S. officials sometimes point out that the suffering of the Cuban people is a direct result of their government’s socialist economic policies, as if that somehow negates the fact that U.S. officials are trying to make their suffering even worse with their embargo.

If any Third World nations targeted by U.S. sanctions or embargoes were First World nations, there is little doubt that they would respond with a military counterattack against the United States. Few nations are going to permit another nation to intentionally target and kill their citizenry, either by bombs or sanctions.

But poor, impoverished Third World nations know that they don’t stand a chance in a war with the United States. That’s why they inevitably fail to respond militarily to the U.S. sanctions attacks on their citizenry. But even Third World nations, if squeezed hard enough with an ever-increasing death toll among its citizenry, can potentially get to a point of such desperation that they finally decide to go for broke and retaliate. They might well figure that since they’re going down anyway because of the sanctions, they might as well take a lot of people down with them.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.