Donald Trump is a terrible president. Nearly all of his policies are and have been wrong. However, that does not mean that one should oppose a policy merely because Trump supports it. The issue of sanctions on Iran is a prime example. For decades, the U.S. has imposed sanctions on the regressive theocracy. The U.N. did for a time also, before lifting most of them almost two years ago. Trump has been a supporter of strong sanctions, while many liberals argue that they are counterproductive. The debate over U.S. policy toward Iran is unlikely to subside anytime soon, especially in light of recent Gestapo-style tactics deployed against protesters by the Iranian government, tactics that left over twenty demonstrators dead. It is worth recapping some of Iran’s other human rights atrocities:
- Homosexuality is a capital crime.
- Women are legally forbidden from going out in public unveiled or watching “men’s sports” in stadiums. According to Human Rights Watch, ” Iranian women face discrimination in many aspects of their lives, ranging from issues related to marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody, to restrictions on dress and even access to sports stadiums as spectators.” Polygamy is also allowed for men but not for women.
- Strict laws exist to impede interfaith marriages–Hiddush, an Israeli organization dedicated to promoting civil liberties and equality, gave Iran a 0 for freedom to marry. Lest anyone accuse Hiddush of bias, Israel received a 0 also.
- Freedom of speech is almost nonexistent. According to Rod Panjabi, Executive Director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, “The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has engineered one of the most repressive environments on the planet in terms of the right to free speech … For decades, journalists, scholars, artists and indeed all Iranians have been forced to navigate censorship, self-censorship, and the aggressive and often arbitrary policing of the public space by a government whose distaste for free speech has long been a matter of identity. As long as these trends persist, Iran will be poorly governed.”
- Marital rape is legally permitted, even when the marriage was forced to begin with. Remember this if someone tries to claim Iran has a low rate of rape. It’s easy to claim that rape is rare if your legal definition is narrow, and you look the other way.
These are not benign cultural differences. These are vile, heinous policies and practices that decent people should be sickened by. Many people on the Left have rightfully called out human rights violations committed by Israel. A case can be made for the proposals of the BDS Movement. However, the idea that Israel should be boycotted, divested from, and sanctioned and Iran spared is absurd. It is certainly true that the U.S. had a hand in the current political situation in Iran. The United States government toppled a secular, democratically elected prime minister in 1953 and put a “friendly dictator” in power, which eventually helped lead to the emergence of Iran’s current theocratic government. However, that is not a good argument against sanctions. The fact that America helped create the conditions for the Ayatollah does not in any way mean that America should essentially subsidize this current regime through trade. If anything, this fact increases America’s obligation to promote freedom in Iran through nonmilitary means. If I am wrong, then so is the BDS Movement. After all, the United States has played a role in helping shape current conditions in Israel in a number of ways. So if America’s enabling the Shah of Iran means we have no right to impose sanctions or boycotts on Iran, then the same goes for Israel.
Some opponents of sanctions argue that sanctions will not promote human rights in Iran and that honey would work better than incense. There are several problems with this argument. Firstly, the U.N.’s decision to lift most of its sanctions on Iran has utterly failed to prevent Iran from continuing on the path of oppression and violence. Secondly, history has proven that sanctions can be an effective tool for promoting human rights. In 1986, Congress passed sanctions on South Africa, over Ronald Reagan’s veto. Many conservatives at the time argued that they would ineffective. But within less than ten years, Apartheid had ended. Claiming that sanctions were the only reason would be absurd, but so is claiming that they played no role. Sadly, while certain other Western nations outpaced the U.S. in terms of taking a hard line on Apartheid, the U.N. and European Union have undercut American sanctions on Iran. Thirdly, Americans and all people have a moral imperative not to financially support countries or other institutions that are brazenly oppressive. Harsh sanctions, preferably including a trade embargo, should be maintained against Iran until such time as the country is willing to make substantive steps for human rights.
Of course, the fact that Trump’s basic policy on sanctions is largely correct does not change the fact that he is extremely hypocritical about it. For one thing, even by the standards of American politicians, he has been incredibly friendly with Saudi Arabia, a country with human rights policies every bit as bad as Iran’s and possibly worse. Any sanctions implemented against Iran must be implemented against Saudi Arabia as well. For another, Trump shares many of the worst aspects of Iran’s political and religious leaders, from sexism and homophobia to a penchant for violence and censorship. And of course, Trump’s travel ban prevents Iranians who wish to flee their repressive regime from coming to the United States.
I should also make clear that I vehemently oppose any calls to go to war with Iran. Iran has not shown any intention of attacking the United States, and I consider myself to be a military isolationist. But there is a difference between supporting military isolationism and believing that the U.S. should do nothing to promote human rights abroad. Sanctions for brutal regimes are a reasonable, necessary alternative to war.