America’s other forever war

By | February 16, 2021

Peter Beinart writes:

“It is past time,” Joe Biden pledged last year, “to end the forever wars.” He’s right. But his definition of war is too narrow.

For decades, the United States has supplemented its missile strikes and Special Operations raids with a less visible instrument of coercion and death. America blockades weaker adversaries, choking off their trade with the outside world. It’s the modern equivalent of surrounding a city and trying to starve it into submission. Wonks call this weapon “secondary sanctions.” The more accurate term would be “siege.”

America launched its first post-Cold War siege in 1990, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. For the next 13 years, Iraq — which before the war had imported roughly 70 percent of its food and medicine — needed United Nations approval to legally import anything. Claiming that everything from water tankers to dental equipment to antibiotics might have military use, Washington used its muscle at the U.N. to radically restrict what Iraq could buy. In her book, “Invisible War,” the Loyola University professor Joy Gordon notes that between 1996 and 2003, Iraq legally imported only $204 per person in goods per year — half of the per capita income of Haiti. After resigning to protest sanctions in 1998, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Denis Halliday, warned, “We are in the process of destroying an entire society.”

The U.N. ended its blockade of Iraq when the United States invaded in 2003. Since then, Washington has often claimed to employ “targeted” sanctions, which restrict arms sales or penalize only specific officials or companies, not entire populations. And in some instances, the sanctions are indeed targeted. But in the case of a few select foes — Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Cuba and Syria — the United States has initiated or intensified sieges that contribute to the same kind of misery experienced in Iraq. [Continue reading…]

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