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The silent victims of the US embargo against Iran (thelancet.com)
103 points by kushti 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments



I was born in Myanmar and grew up there for more than two decades. The impact of economic sanctions are felt not by the ruling class (the military generals), but by the average citizen. Looking back, I firmly believe that sanctions simply deteriorates the human capital and resource (and thus the potential to spur any progressive change) rather than creating any sort of difficulty for the military.

Because of the sanctions, there's always constant emigration and drained my country of a lot of intelligent and hard working people. We are still suffering from that and the current democratically elected government can't easily find competent people to help rebuild the country...


Gutting the lower classes is how you punish the ruling class. Ruling class A wants to make ruling class B hurt so they hurt the people from whom ruling class B derives its wealth. Sucks but it's how things work.


That only works if ruling class B actually cares. The traditional line of thinking is to spur revolt but the power imbalance is now a lot stronger than, e.g. 1789 France.


The upper classes don't need to be deposed via revolt. Diminishing their wealth and influence to the point where they can no longer do whatever it was that pissed you off in the first place is good enough. For example, if nobody was buying Saudi oil they wouldn't have the money to spend fighting a war in Yemen.


> Gutting the lower classes is how you punish the ruling class.

Nah, that rarely works and is usually a very slow and painful process, often causing more suffering for the lower class than the crimes the sanctions are supposedly being imposed for.


And that would all make sense- if the ruling class would need the ruled over class. But with ressources as main economy- not a chance.


they are myopic if not nefarious


It's important to remember that US actions have consequences like this. No matter how poorly you think the Iranian government is behaving, our actions toward their country have led to hundreds of thousands of dead Iranians over the years. There is good reason for countries to doubt "US assistance," and further intrusion will likely cause tremendous suffering for their citizens.


"our actions toward their country have led to hundreds of thousands of dead Iranians over the years."

This false and inflammatory, moreover, 'sanctions' are totally unrelated to 'assistance'.

Today, Iran can de-facto trade with most of the world either directly or through intermediaries. The purpose of any embargo is to weaken a state economically, not withhold specific medicines, obviously.


> Today, Iran can de-facto trade with most of the world either directly or through intermediaries. The purpose of any embargo is to weaken a state economically, not withhold specific medicines, obviously

This is not true. Even opening a foreign bank account (necessary for trade) is impossible for Iranians companies, making trade extremely difficult for all companies.

European banks are legally permitted to trade with Iranian companies, but the threat of fines from the U.S bars all of them from doing so.

> The purpose of any embargo is to weaken a state economically, not withhold specific medicines, obviously.

In reality, one of the immediate effects of sanctions is scarcity of medicine.

Source: I lived there through the Obama-era sanctions.


This perspective would make an excellent NYT piece.


[flagged]


We've banned this account for using HN primarily for political and ideological battle. Regardless of which politics or ideology, this is against the site guidelines.

HN is for unplanned conversation, not pre-existing agendas.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20primarily%20battle&s...


The EU recently opened a mechanism to allow banks to interact with Iran (INSTEX; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instrument_in_Support_of_Trade... ). It is realtively recent and idk how much it will be used, but it is not an unsolvable problem (with some overhead).


There is huge pressure from the US to shut down that special trade mechanism even though none of countries involved support further sanctions. Numerous banks have backed away from it.

It's a token effort on the part of Europe to salvage the nuclear treaty that everyone agrees Iran is complying with. Even US intelligence publicly acknowledge it.

Amazed that NK can believe in any sort of deal after seeing what happened to Iran.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/31/world/europe/europe-trade...



Iran imports and exports about $50B worth of goods ever year.

You can see some figures for EU/Iran trade here [1]

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/count...


This is not a vivid picture I'm afraid. Most of Iran's exports are oil and other petrochemical products. The U.S is exempting Iran's trade partners from sanctions on the condition that they reduce their imports quarter by quarter. Ultimate goal is to bring petro export to certain countries to zero.

Iran also has trouble receiving payment for its oil. India, for example, used to have a deal in place (probably still does), that it would only pay Iran in Rupees. Your choice of cancer medicine is limited when you can only spend in Rupees, and so is your purchasing power.

And after all, this is just oil. It's sold by the government, and its proceeds are used for essential government functions, such as keeping the local currency afloat (which is now about 1/3 of its value compared to last year). Oil proceeds do not help the private sector in trade. An Iranian software company for example, does not export oil.


>This false and inflammatory

The US provided arms to both sides of the Iraq-Iran war, which killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians. This is in addition to a host of other actions the US had taken that led to more death. If you find it inflammatory, imagine how you would feel if it was your family killed by these actions.


This is highly misleading. The US provided absolutely nothing to the Iranian Republic that superseded Imperial Iran.


That the US provided some weapons to people fighting a war, does not making them responsible for it.

Consider amending your sentence to state: "Saddam Hussein was responsible for the death of 100's of thousands of Iranians and Iraqis".

Of course, the US was not fuelling both sides of the war with weapons as your comment implies, US equipment in Iran was there long before the Islamic revolution, after which, and ever since, Iran has declared that they want to destroy the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. If they want to take that posture against powerful nations, and at the same time get pretty close to building nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to mount them - well - then they're picking a fight with entities much more powerful than them, which is why the sanctions were put in place to begin with.

Nobody wants to fight Iran, nobody wants sanctions. Really, everyone wants to make money if anything. The ball is effectively in their court.


>That the US provided some weapons to people fighting a war, does not making them responsible for it.

Yes, it does. Not soley responsible, but that blood is still on US hands.

>Of course, the US was not fuelling both sides of the war with weapons as your comment implies, US equipment in Iran was there long before the Islamic revolution,

I assumed you had heard of the Iran-Contra affair. My comment implies the reality.

>Iran has declared that they want to destroy the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. If they want to take that posture against powerful nations, and at the same time get pretty close to building nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to mount them - well - then they're picking a fight with entities much more powerful than them, which is why the sanctions were put in place to begin with

You act like they claim they wanted to destroy those nations for no reason. Decades of the US backed regime is what led to the Iranian revolution, which was just the tail end of Western powers looting Iran. A return to those conditions is what is still required of Iran to escape sanctions.


The idea of these constraints on trade is to push ordinary people to the point where they rise up and overthrow the regime. This is the same reason for so-called strategic bombing where you bomb civilians in the hope of the same aim. Neither has ever been demonstrated to be effective.

(as a side point the use of the term "sanction" in this way became annoyingly weird in the 1990s -- it's actually sanctioning a restriction on trade).


The only reason you can get away with this sort of thing is because Americans have never had to experience these sorts of policies or any of the other things that they do to other people. If they had they would change their minds.

At the end all these policies are to steal resources, and have nothing to do with human rights.

That being said Iran's government needs to be pushed into the sea.


Well you could see the hipocrisiy it in the cuba-missile crisis. All of europe was expected live under direct missile thread- and the same was to be expected for the russians (missiles in turkey) - but as soon as the very same standards apply to gods chosen country, it was considered worth starting world war 3 to stop that.

So much for equality, so much for freedom.


I've wondered for a long time whether the US (and Europe) would get into so many conflicts if their own civilians were put at risk as well. The US was fighting a war in the Middle East, but back home it was business as usual.


  Americans have never had to experience these sorts of policies 
But Americans did have to experience their embassy invaded and its personnel taken hostage -- an extremely rare event (the only similar case I can recall was the MRTA takeover of the Japanese embassy in Lima).


While I am a fan of this line of argument I don't think it applies in this case. European countries and Japan, which were smashed to bits in WWII, still participate, sometimes eagerly, in trade restriction sanctions.


>The only reason you can get away with this sort of thing is because Americans have never had to experience these sorts of policies or any of the other things that they do to other people. If they had they would change their minds.

This is why it is so important to fight - and constantly fight - for free speech rights, and the right to form and hold an opinion which is precisely allowed because its not 'mainstream groupthink'.

A society which cannot criticise its military is ruled by it.

All members of the criminal (really, our wars are criminal) Coalition of Western Forces - its citizens as well as its 'service members' - must take responsibility for the violations of human rights that are happening, daily, in our name - and under our flag.

It is a terrible thing that ""Americans"" have absolutely no interest in seeing the results of their wars. It should be required viewing of all teenagers, so they know what their nation is doing for them.

That they have tuned themselves out - nearly completely - from actually understanding the people and the states they are bombing, illegally. In which states they are murdering civilian children, daily. For which allies we turn a blind eye while they commit, literally, genocide. Today.

And so on.

The fact that we don't communicate about these things - or are indeed prevented from doing so, is a huge tragedy.

We could be living in a much more peaceful world, if but for our criminal leadership.

>That being said Iran's government needs to be pushed into the sea.

I mean, if you can't speak a word of Farsi and don't know a thing about the Iranian people, or their culture - I'm personally of the opinion that this kind of attitude is just war-mongering.


It’s really inexcusable to have sanctions on essential lifesaving drugs.


Well, its actually exuseable, due to chemistry. Given enough energy, almost everything can be made dualuse.

Add to that the effect of government bureaucracy trying to make there decisions future proof and voila.


In the same circumstances, Iran sent 200 tons of medicine to Iraq. The Islamic Republic lied. Medicine and food are not under US sanctions. This is the oppression of the Islamic Republic's mafia to the Iranian people.

https://www.isna.ir/news/97071810369/%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1%DA%A...


There is difference between trading medicine and just "sending" it.

I think this comment explains the issue well: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19481707


The Iranian government can communicate anywhere ... sell something or buy something. I live in Iran, and I see that the Islamic Republic's mafia instead of buying medicines and food supplies its capital to suppress people in Iran and promote violence and assassination elsewhere in the world. They kill the Syrian people, and tell the people of Iran that I am defending you.

They can buy medicines for their people instead of buying weapons. Surely buying medicine is more convenient. But the Islamic Republic's mafia is just thinking of itself.


Suppose Iran passed a law invalidating all patents of drugs it cannot buy on the market at market prices. Possibly appointing an agency to sort out which ones they are exactly and publish lists. Any drug featured in such lists would be thereby clear for anyone to manufacture in Iran.

What would the consequences be?


That is essentially the status quo. The issue is not patents, it is that Iran does not have the technology to manufacture these drugs.

Unlike copyright, patents are country-specific. If you register a patent in the US, it is not valid in Argentina. If you register a patent in Russia, you cannot sue people for infringement in the US. There are of course trade agreements and other treaties that make it possible to register a patent in one country and have it recognized in multiple others. But for the most part, you have to register a patent in every country you wish to enforce it. Since in general, US does not allow US companies to do business with Iran, none of these patents are registered or recognized in Iran.

Iran is not even a signatory of international copyright treaties, let alone bilateral patent recognition treaties. In general, any IP produced outside of Iran is fair game in Iran and vice versa. The issue is not the laws, it is that the technology to make them is not available in Iran, and any attempt to purchase the technology is thwarted with the same sanctions regime.


India blatantly does this already. They've cancelled valid patents when it suits them. To add insult to injury they also sell huge amounts back to America, it's their biggest pharma export market.

Ive seen estimates around tens of billions of lost revenue from US biotech companies every year.


> They've cancelled valid patents when it suits them.

You mean when it has the potential to save millions of lives vs pay less in pharma CEO bonuses?

> Ive seen estimates around tens of billions of lost revenue from US biotech companies every year.

Cry me a river.


It's actually incredibly harmful to Indians, the healthcare costs gained aren't much, medicines are licensed for a fraction of what consumers pay in the West.

Yet because of their incredibly weak IP protections many drug companies are reluctant to sell there. Hundreds of medicines simply aren't available despite being released a decade earlier and Indians in need have to pay European prices for access to modern pharmaceuticals. It's entirely destroyed any chance for local r&d too.

It's not a net benefit.

I'm all for sticking it to the Man and especially criticising big pharma but suggest reconsidering your viewpoint here.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2014/09/09/indian...


  Suppose Iran passed a law invalidating all patents of drugs it cannot buy on the market at market prices. 
Like India?



Regarding you first link, it does not justify the civilian suffering. There are many instances of the U.S. sponsoring unsaviory groups, but I don't think anyone would argue the citizens should suffer as a result.

The second link is not relevant, the international community is confident Iran is sticking to the agreement, so pointing to a non-existent issue as some kind of a gotcha, especially as the biggest complainer about this in the region themselves have undeclared stockpiles, is not really relevant.


If you compare Iran's victims to US's, Iran will come out as an untarnished Angel. Just in the last 20 years in the middle-east, we have Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and by proxy Syria and Yemen. Put together, even if one is generous, that's more than a million people, minimum, died in wars of conquest, claimed to be `Freedom Operations` or at worst `Police Actions`.

Spare us with the propaganda. The world has caught up and can see through it.


Sorry, but how the hell does that justify allowing children with cancer to suffer and die?


I think you are missing a big point here: US is the biggest terrorist state, world wide.


It is so frustrating that the EU doesn't have the capacity or the courage to stand up against these unjustified and illegal sanctions. We really are powerless in the face of the whims of a capricious fool and his warmongering friends.


That's also... largely not true?

Europe was the only party that ever had /any/ power. The US did not have much of an economic relationship with Iran to begin with. Therefore, their sanctions were mostly symbolic. It was EU sanctions that eventually forced Iran to the negotiating table and made the nuclear deal possible. As the article shows, the US has the power to be cruel. But the price being paid is humanitarian, not economic.

Accordingly, in succeeds only in killing children, not creating pressure. This is best shown by Iran's decision to stay in the JCPOA. The US is being ignored, because it is comparably irrelevant in purely economic terms.

The EU has also passed legislation prohibiting EU companies from implement US sanctions and indemnifying them against US fines: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45085205. And there's an EU venture to replace US institutions in Iran-bound financial transactions: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2019...


> The EU has also passed legislation prohibiting EU companies from implement US sanctions and indemnifying them against US fines

These moves have mostly been symbolic. Trade with all large European companies, from Total to Peugeot has been ceased. Also, no European bank has been willing to trade with Iran under the threat of U.S fines.

> And there's an EU venture to replace US institutions in Iran-bound financial transactions

Good gesture, but also symbolic. In practice, the new mechanism is mostly a gesture towards U.S for its unilateral sanctions, than a vehicle to enable trade with Iran.

Edit: typo


I understand US sanctions ban any company doing business with the US to also do business with Iran. Companies doing business with the US is pretty much 100% of large companies in the world. So US sanctions did affect all commerce with Iran, not just US commerce with Iran.


Yes. Read my comment again. Following that US attempt to change longstanding international law is, in turn, illegal in the EU. Companies are indemnified against damages, and the EU will presumably try to claw these back if it ever comes so far.

Does something in all this need to give? Yes, definitely. Presumably, the US will shy away from trying to enforce. If not, US courts are actually somewhat likely to uphold long-standing precedents in international law, because the only other possible outcome is a completely unworkable quagmire going forward where no company could simultaneously operate in the EU and the US.


Unfortunately, things are not as you describe them. All the major EU companies have ceased their trading with Iran, as risks are too high and of course it's impossible to punish somebody for not trading with a foreign country.

The only meaningful thing for the EU to do would be to retaliate by sanctioning US companies and freezing US assets to compensate for the effect of the US sanctions. Which would mean full scale economic war and sanctions on the US, something the EU of course cannot afford.


The meaningful thing that needs to be done is that Iran needs to solve their government problem.

If I recall, the US had to do something like that back in 1776, and Germany had to have some assistance in it back in 1939-41.

Growing pains.


Iran had a somewhat democratic government until the US overthrew it and replaced it with a monarch in the 50s. Iran subsequently had another revolution with a total purge of foreign influence in 1979. Subsequently a huge number of Iranians were killed in the Iran-Iraq war, where the US supported Iraq.

Modernization can happen, but only if it's not visibly pro US.


I can only guess, but I think the parent was being sarcastic, insinuateing that the current US policy towards the Iran points to a new Gulf war.


The US didn’t overthrow the Mossadegh gov’t in a coup. It did back the opposition during a very turbulent time in Iranian history (massive protests against the Mossadegh gov’t), but to say the gov’t would have survived in the absence of US involvement is a major overstatement.


> The US didn’t overthrow the Mossadegh gov’t in a coup.

On the contrary:

In August 2013, sixty years afterward, the U.S. government formally acknowledged the U.S. role in the coup by releasing a bulk of previously classified government documents that show it was in charge of both the planning and the execution of the coup, including the bribing of Iranian politicians, security and army high-ranking officials, as well as pro-coup propaganda. The CIA is quoted acknowledging the coup was carried out "under CIA direction" and "as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government".

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1953_Iranian_coup_d'état


Exactly. The CIA aligned itself with already existing groups within Iran to lend assistance in the coup. People act like without the CIA Iran would be some functioning democracy. Iran was a huge mess of competing factions at the time. The Mossadegh gov't would have fallen regardless. The CIA just decided to help out.

Very similar to what happened with Vietnam and the Diem regimen.


> The CIA aligned itself with already existing groups within Iran to lend assistance in the coup.

No, it (and the British who actually started trying to pull off a coup first) paid people and deployed propaganda from multiple different angles, and including false flag operations, to energize multiple, mutually antagonistic factions in order to destabilize the Mossadegh regime; a lot of the anti-Mossadegh opposition was organized crime groups paid by the CIA to put up a front as political opposition. They didn't care about the politics; they did care about the money.

Heck, even the Shah—the monarch who superficially seized total power in the coup—was opposed until the CIA threatened to depose him as well if he didn't go along.


Not sure your comment contradicts anything I wrote.


The US don't really have an history of backing down on these matters. I don't see any responsible CEO taking a life or death bet on which will win between the US and the EU.


I don't think that's how it works at all. The US sanctions can hit any EU company trading with Iran. So the problem is not (only) direct trade between the US and Iran, but trade by any company in the world which also wants to have a US presence.

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/europe/2018-10-10/eu...


Those anti-sanctions do not really work. Take the telecom for example-who tries to protect there us-investments - by cutting loose all iran buisness.

In the end big evil bullys always get there way.


Iran sanctions didn't start with Trump. But you already knew that. The US has been choking Cuba for decades, for example.

Also, immoral/unjustified != illegal.


The specific sanctions mentioned in the article did either begin with Trump, or were revived after previously being dropped as part of the JCPOA.

And while the treatment of Cuba is indeed appalling, or at least incongruous in relation to, say, Saudi Arabia, there are rather meaningful differences between the parties.

Thawing relations with Cuba was among Obama's signature achievements. This included the reopening of Embassies, allowing travel, and vastly increasing legal avenues for trade and investment.

Some (but not all) of this has been delayed or cut back under the current administration. At the same time, Saudi Arabia enjoys unprecedented support and access at a time where they are more hostile in Yemen, Qatar, and The Streisand Lobby at the Istanbul Consulate.



The UN is completely toothless. Whatever they say is as relevant as if it had been said by a local court in Kazakhstan.


The US government action was deemed illegal under the terms of a treaty (in that case the Treaty of Amity of 1955), which the US freely negotiated and entered into and ratified. What is the point of any nation entering into treaties with the US, if it's going to just ignore and violate them at the whim of whoever happens to be president at the time?

As a condition of easing sanctions, Iran filled the rector core of it's active nuclear reactor with concrete and was found to be in compliance with all the terms of the agreement. Good luck getting any other nation to enter into negotiations like that with the US in good faith again.

The Iranian regime is awful. They're appalling extremists and oppressive tyrants. No argument there, but that's on them. It doesn't justify recklessly violating treaties and unilaterally breaking agreements, and establishing a track record of doing so. If anything, demonstrating a track record of honesty and respect for straight dealing is even more important when dealing with such people.


So are you saying it's not illegal, or are you saying there won't be any consequences for this crime?


I am saying it's not illegal because the UN doesn't make law, and I know there will be no consequences for this "crime" because the UN can't enforce anything and no country which is in good terms with the UN will want to piss off the US.

Having said that, I do NOT condone sanctions in any form.


This is of course true, as law enforcement depends on what is called "the monopoly of violence". And this is of course impossible when dealing with major powers in the current world.


In that sense, it is the US with currently the largest military presence in Europe


Doesn't mean it's legal. Plus the UN is not toothless, it has been very effective at achieving what is was founded for, preventing another world war.




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