Embargos are diplomatic actions in which a country prohibits trade with another country. These measures are taken to restrict the sale of weapons, supplies, or food in order to weaken a certain group in a country.
A recent example was in Libya, when there was a popular uprising against the Muammar Gaddafi regime. Weapons were forbidden to enter the country as a hope to lessen the violent repression by the government. Throughout its history, the United States has been involved in its fair share of embargos. These can be devestating to a country’s economy. Not trading with a country of our economic clout can cripple a country, especially if they are a close neighbor to us. Among the two most prominent countries to suffer a United States embargo are Cuba and Iran. Both countries drew the ire of the United States when they denounced the U.S. newly installed communist leader, Fidel Castro, nationalized U.S. industries and aligned Cuba with the Soviet Union.
The embargo of Iran has started since 1979 and has been in place ever since. What has changed is that it has grown tighter since it was discovered that Iran has been implementing a uranium enrichment program. The Iranian government claims that the program is peaceful, but there are skeptics. The Obama administration hopes that a tighter embargo will dissuade the Iranian government from their nuclear program. If you want an example of how embargos work you need to only look at Cuba.
The embargo of Cuba has been a failure. It is difficult to argue against this. The purpose of the embargo was to weaken Fidel Castro and his Communist regime from Cuba. Cuba is stilled ruled by an authoritative Communist party and Fidel Castro was the longest ruling non-royal leader of modern times. Cuba was shut off from valuable aid and investment from the United States. This hurts the people of Cuba much more than it hurts Fidel Castro and other Communist party members. The local population is separated from their families in the United States. The embargo isolated the local Cubans. Once isolated, the Cubans turn to Castro and the government. This emboldens the Cuban government to be more rigid and make fewer reforms. Cuba still jails political dissidents and has mass censorship. Until 2007, access to DVD players and computers were banned. These changes did not come from a 51-year embargo, but a natural need for change. Economically strangling the Cuban people does not help them. It actually only strengthens the Castro regime.
The argument for keeping an embargo of Cuba would have had some credence in the Cold War era, but no longer. There is no security threat that Cuba imposes. One may argue that in the past, Cuban threatened our society in the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is hypocritical to openly trade with Communist China and Vietnam, yet shun Communist Cuba. China supplied North Korea with 2.97 million troops to fight against our country. The Vietnam War saw 58,220 Americans dead and another 303,644 Americans wounded. Both these governments are now great trading partners with the U.S. Trading with past enemies and countries with poor human rights records happens daily, yet Cuba is held by a different standard. The U.S. is being obtuse and stubborn in not changing the foreign policy in regards to Cuba when it is clearly outdated.
Iran seems similar to Cuba in many ways. Both revolutions that put the current regimes in power came through toppling U.S.-friendly governments. This caused animosty between both countries and the United States. Both Cuba and Iran have made it a priority to denounce the U.S. as an aggressive, imperial power. Sanctions have been in place against Iran before they started to embark on a nuclear program. It started in 1979, when Iranian youths seized the U.S. embassy and took its occupants hostage. They were held there for 1 year, 2 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days. More canctions put on once it was found out that Iran supported the paramilitray group Hezbollah in Lebanon. It has reached its strictest since the Iranian nuclear program began. Importing and exporting anything to or from Iran is banned. The embargo is showing signs of damaging the country. The value of the rial, the Iranian currency, is decreasing. Daily life in Iran is negatively effected by the embargo. The airplane company Boeing is barred from doing business with Iran. The result is that Iranian airlines have shoddy, dangerous airplanes. Healthcare has also been hit by the sanctions importing medicines and diagnostic equipment. The embargo against Iran is the strictest it has ever been. Like Cuba the Iranian economy is weakening, but it is doubtful is this can change the policies of Iran. West Chester Professor Lawrence Davidson writes that sanctions “create economic problems for the common folks of Iran” yet it will not bring down the Iranian government and it will have “no impact at all on the nuclear program.” An isolated Iran will need to be more self-sufficient if they cannot trade with the richest country on Earth. Professor Davidson further writes that the “Iranian government is using this situation to push the country toward self-sufficiency.” A nuclear program is a prime way to be self-sufficient. The government most likely will grow more resolute to continue its nuclear program and the people will become more dependent on the government. This will be the result of our decades long embargo. What we can do now is use the promise of less sanctions to coax Iran to come to the table and negotiate a solution. Both high officials in each government spoke of possible negotiations. This must be done before this crisis reaches record levels. The answer to the Iranian problem is simply not more embargos.
Jack Barnett is a fourth-year student majoring in history and political science. He can be reached at JB723722@wcupa.edu.