Last Monday, I was drawn to Eric Schansberg’s lecture on Christianity and libertarianism — a subject that interested me because I consider myself a Christian and libertarian. He presented three criteria that Christians or libertarians could use to evaluate any policy: it must be ethical, consistent, and practical.
In order for a policy to be ethical, he explained, the ends must achieve the common good by upholding justice, while employing means that minimize unintended consequences for innocent individuals. A government must enforce policies the same way in every circumstance for a policy to be consistent. And a practical policy must be capable of successfully achieving the desired end.
With these criteria in mind, it is clear that Iranian sanctions are not a good policy.
Iran threatens Israel and the West through its attempts to produce a nuclear bomb, and the United States is more than justified in seeking a policy to prevent a political Islamist regime from becoming armed with atom-splitting firepower. But the U.S. must proceed with caution in the future negotiations with their new president.
I pray there will not be another nuclear standoff with Iran; but sanctions are not means by which we will achieve the end of non-proliferation. In fact, I believe sanctions are an unethical way of trying to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear bomb.
The goal of the sanctions is to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, an ethical end in itself. While I think it should remain the goal of our foreign policy in the future, sanctions as the means are not ethical.
The fact is the real impact of the sanctions has landed on the civilians. The Iranian economy is in shambles, currency and necessary medications are scarce because imports and bank activity are so heavily restricted.
The sanctions deny the Iranian people the ability to pursue a good life. Because they are unable to obtain what they need legally, they must turn to smugglers and the black markets, where, even there, supplies are scarce. In reality, the sanctions are punishing the civilians for the wrongs of the government, which, essentially, goes unpunished.
Iranian civilians showed their frustration with the previous regime during the Green Revolution in 2011 and 2012. However, the weight of a healthy government crushed the protesters, exposing the disparity in strength between the government and civilians. Without decades of sanctions, Iran may have followed other Middle Eastern nations by changing regimes.
Regarding consistency, the U.S. has condemned the proliferation of Iran and North Korea, as well as their belligerent attitudes and rhetoric. In fact, the U.S. discourages any country acquiring nuclear weapons. While this stance of non-proliferation is commendable, it is time to find a better policy to carry out this goal.
Unintended consequences on the civilians, as well as the fact that sanctions are not a practical solution for Iranian proliferation, warrants the abandonment this policy. Even if we tightened sanctions, as advocated by some in Congress, it would not slow down the progress of their nuclear program, if that is indeed their goal.
While we may have consistency going for our sanction policy, sanctions as means to stop Iranian proliferation are not ethical nor are they practical. Scoring one out of three — a whopping 33%. It is time to acknowledge our policy failure and pursue a new, more practical policy to stop Iran.
Instead of continuing sanctions, our policymakers should devote time to developing a more ethical and effective policy. Our current approach to Iran will only exacerbate the situation, punishing civilians and further polarizing Iran from the West.