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The Banality of U.S. Evil


U.S. officials, led by President Trump, and accompanied by their acolytes in the U.S. mainstream press, are absolutely giddy over what they perceive as the success of U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea. With Iran, they are celebrating the fact that horrific economic conditions have led to sporadic protests across the country against the Iranian regime. With North Korea, they are saying that U.S. sanctions are starting to “bite,” which, they say, is what has caused North Korea to reach out to South Korea in diplomatic talks regarding North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics.

The mindset of these people perfectly reflects Hannah Arendt’s phrase “the banality of evil.” In fact, with the possible exception of government programs like MKULTRA or syphilis experiments against unsuspecting African-Americans, it would be difficult to find anything more evil than the system of sanctions that has long been a core element of U.S. foreign policy.

Let’s begin with North Korea. As a communist state, the government owns everything, and 99 percent of the citizenry works for the government. That means that every North Korean family’s survival depends on food, housing, healthcare, and a paycheck from the state.

If the government has no money, then that means people starve to death because the government is their sole source of sustenance and income.

Thus, to feed and sustain everyone, the government must come up with ways to collect revenue, for example, by heavily taxing North Korean workers who are permitted to work abroad or by engaging in some state enterprise.

This is what socialism, in its purest form, is all about — the government taking care of people, not just with programs like Social Security, public schooling, subsidies, and Medicare, like here in the United States and taxing the productive citizens to pay for them — but rather in a total and complete manner, with the government owning everything and taking care of everyone, and with virtually everyone being an employee of the government.

In North Korea, there is widespread equality insofar as wealth is concerned (which, of course, is a cherished goal of American socialists) because everyone is equally poor, desperately poor because of their socialist economic system.

There is also in North Korea what Mises called “planned chaos.” That’s because central planning and state control of economic activity is inherently defective, given there are no free-market prices with which the planners are able to calculate when formulating their central economic plans.

So, what is the aim of U.S. sanctions? The aim is to deprive the North Korean regime of revenues in the hopes of causing North Korean families to suffer even more than they already are suffering from socialism. Ideally, the aim of the sanctions is to kill ordinary North Koreans through starvation, which will then bring anger and dissatisfaction, which, presumably, will then bring down the regime and have it replaced with a pro-U.S. regime.

That is the ultimate aim of U.S. sanctions — regime change. That’s the aim in Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Russia, and everywhere else that the U.S. has imposed sanctions. Alternatively, the aim is to force the targeted regime to accede to whatever the U.S. government wants.

(All this from a regime and a mainstream press that prattles on about Russia’s supposed interference with America’s political system.)

There is one important thing to keep in mind: the pawns in this scheme are the ordinary people — the families — the fathers, mothers, grandparents, children, grandchildren. They are the ones who U.S. officials are trying to kill as a way to achieve regime change in the targeted country.

This phenomenon of evil was manifested perfectly in 1996, when U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeline Albright, was asked by “Sixty Minutes,” whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children were “worth it.” What “Sixty Minutes” was referring to was the sanctions that U.S. officials had imposed and enforced against Iraq ever since the U.S. intervention in the Persian Gulf War.

Like with North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Russia today, the aim of the sanctions against Iraq was regime change. U.S. officials wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, who, ironically, had been their partner and ally in the 1980s when Saddam was killing Iranians in the Iraq-Iran War, and replace him with a pro-U.S. ruler. To achieve that goal — regime change — U.S. officials imposed one of the most brutal sanctions systems in history, one that, naturally, targeted Iraqi families.

The combination of Iraq’s socialist economic system and the U.S. sanctions, along with the Pentagon’s intentional destruction of Iraq’s water-and-sewage treatment plants in the Gulf War, operated as a vise that squeezed the economic lifeblood out of Iraqi families. Those who bore the biggest brunt of the sanctions were Iraqi children, who began dying in masse from malnutrition and infectious illnesses, especially since the sanctions prevented Iraq from repairing the water-and-sewage treatment plants that the Pentagon had intentionally bombed and destroyed during the Gulf War.

Thus, in 1996 “Sixty Minutes” asked Albright whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children were “worth it.”

Albright’s response? She said that the issue was a difficult one but that, yes, the deaths of those Iraqi children were in fact “worth it.” By “it” she meant regime change. To her, it was worth killing hundreds of thousands of children in order to achieve regime change in Iraq.

No U.S. official, including her boss Bill Clinton, who, as a liberal, was reputed to be a lover of the “poor, needy, and disadvantaged,” condemned or even mildly criticized Albright’s position. That’s undoubtedly because they agreed with it.

When Hans von Sponek, Denis Halliday, and Jutta Purghart resigned their high positions in the UN in protest against the U.S. evil being committed against the children of Iraq, U.S. officials scoffed and U.S. sanctions bureaucrats continued enforcing the myriad rules that made up the sanctions systems.

(By the way, when Ramzi Yousef, one of the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, was brought before a federal judge for sentencing, he angrily cited the deaths of Iraqi children from the sanctions and referred to U.S. officials as “butchers.”)

In Iran, there is nothing that U.S. officials love more than to see people rising up in protest against the Iranian government. Again, that was the purpose of U.S. sanctions against Iran — to magnify and expand the economic suffering that is already in existence owing to Iran’s socialist economic system, which consists of a government-controlled and centrally planned economy. By increasing the suffering among the Iranian people, the hope is that the economic misery will cause the Iranian people to rise up against the Iranian leadership and bring about regime change.

In the process, everyone knows that Iranians (like Cubans, Russians, and North Koreans) are facing brutal totalitarian or authoritarian regimes, ones that will not go peacefully into the night and retire in the face of protests and demonstrations. They will do whatever is necessary to cling to power. That means they will do what is necessary to put down protests and demonstrations, including arresting, incarcerating, torturing, and killing protesters and demonstrators.

We see this already in Iran, where at least 21 protestors have been killed. Of course, U.S. officials, and their acolytes in the mainstream press, express “outrage” at such brutality and shed crocodile tears for the victims and their families.

It’s all a sham. They couldn’t care less about those 21 dead people, any more than they cared about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children who they killed with their sanctions. In fact, that’s what they hopie to accomplish with sanctions, widespread anger and disatisfaction which they know, as an absolute certainty, will bring about the torture or deaths of some protestors at the hands of their government. In their minds, that’s just part of the process of  care about is bringing down the Iranian government and reinstalling a pro-U.S. dictator, like they did when they installed the Shah into power after their regime change operation in 1953, when they destroyed Iran’s experiment with democracy by removing the nation’s democratically elected president Mohamad Mossadegh in a CIA coup.

Of course, none of this is new. In the 1970s, when Salvador Allende’s socialist economic policies were bringing chaos and crisis to Chile, President Nixon ordered the CIA to make things worse for the Chilean people — to make the Chilean economy “scream” — to increase the suffering among the Chilean people so much that they would welcome a regime-change operation in the form of a military coup, one that would replace Allende with one of the world’s most brutal military dictators, one whose pro-U.S. national-security state forces would kidnap, incarcerate, torture, rape, disappear, or execute tens of thousands of innocent people.

Which is more evil: a regime whose bad economic policies bring suffering or even death to people or a regime that intentionally brings economic suffering and even death to people with the aim of achieving regime change or other political goal?

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.