Tuesday, October 05, 2004
On this day:

Cheney's Position on Iran Sanctions

In this speech delivered June 23, 1998 to the Cato Institute, Dick Cheney, then CEO of Halliburton, pointed out the problems with the unilateral sanctions and secondary boycotts enacted under the Helms-Burton Act and the Iran/Libya Sanctions Act. A "secondary boycott" in this context is one that is imposed on foreign companies or governments that do business in a nation that is the target of economic sanctions. The Helms-Burton Act imposes these types of sanctions against Cuba. The Iran/Libya Sanctions Act imposes them against...ummmm...I forget. Nonetheless, here are the lengthy excerpts from Cheney's speech that define his position.
I want to spend a few minutes this afternoon on my favorite hobbyhorse, the question of unilateral economic sanctions. Let me emphasize at the outset that I am not automatically, absolutely opposed to all sanctions. I think there are occasions when an appropriate policy response by the United States is to impose sanctions on some foreign government. But those occasions are relatively few. I think in most cases they are appropriate only where we can think in terms of multilateral sanctions, when there is something of an international consensus willing to follow U.S. leadership. Under those circumstances it may make sense to pursue a sanctions policy. I would cite, for example, what the international community has done with respect to Iraq in the period since the Gulf War as an appropriate use of multilateral economic sanctions.

But my concern today is primarily with unilateral economic sanctions imposed by the United States. I would begin by arguing that they almost never work. It is very hard to find specific examples where they actually achieve a policy objective. Unfortunately, as has been pointed out repeatedly in recent public debate, our government has become "sanctions happy." I don't mean to be partisan here. I think there's plenty of blame to go around for both parties with respect to this question of the use of unilateral sanctions. But let me cite a couple of facts from a recent issue of US News & World Report. In the last 80 years, the United States has imposed economic sanctions some 120 times. More than half of those 120 instances have occurred in the last five years, since the Clinton administration came to power. I don't know that there's any connection, but one cannot deny that, during that period, we've been far quicker to move in the direction of sanctions than ever before.

Currently, again according to U.S. News, we've got some 70 countries around the world affected by sanctions of one kind or another imposed by the United States. Those 70 countries are home to almost two-thirds of the world's population. Now, again, I might be willing to listen to arguments for the imposition of all those unilateral economic sanctions if somebody can produce significant evidence that they work. At a minimum, I would think such evidence ought to illustrate that we achieved the desired change that was used as the rationale when we adopted these sanctions in the first place. Typically, some government is pursuing a policy we don’t like or we disagree with and we impose sanctions with the expectation that they will then understand we don't like that particular policy and they'll change it. As a practical matter, it's almost impossible to find examples where in fact that has happened.

When we pursue those courses of action, the United States ends up in a position of adopting and advocating a policy that is almost guaranteed to be ineffective. It makes one wonder why the United States, on purpose, would want to consistently pursue policies that don't work. But that is what we do every time we fall back on the use of unilateral economic sanctions. They don't produce the desired result, in part because most of the time such policies are motivated primarily by domestic political considerations, by a desire to respond to pressure from some group or other here at home. They are rarely adopted with respect to whether or not they make sense in terms of overall U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives...

The problem in part stems from the view by my former colleagues on Capitol Hill that sanctions are the low-cost option. It is the cheap, easy thing to do. You don't have to appropriate any taxpayer's money. You don’t send any young Americans into combat. We're able to take a firm, aggressive action and do something about the outrageous behavior of the offending government, and, many members believe, it does not cost a thing. But that's a shaky premise, at best. Even though that is the view you will hear bandied about in the cloakroom, it is a false notion that has serious consequences, in part because our sanctions policy oftentimes generates unanticipated consequences. It puts us in a position where a part of our government is pursuing objectives that are at odds with other objectives that the United States has with respect to a particular region.

An example that comes immediately to mind has to do with efforts to develop the resources of the former Soviet Union in the Caspian Sea area. It is a region rich in oil and gas. Unfortunately, Iran is sitting right in the middle of the area and the United States has declared unilateral economic sanctions against that country. As a result, American firms are prohibited from dealing with Iran and find themselves cut out of the action, both in terms of opportunities that develop with respect to Iran itself, and also with respect to our ability to gain access to Caspian resources. Iran is not punished by this decision. There are numerous oil and gas development companies from other countries that are now aggressively pursuing opportunities to develop those resources. That development will proceed, but it will happen without American participation. The most striking result of the government’s use of unilateral sanctions in the region is that only American companies are prohibited from operating there.

Another good example of how our sanctions policy oftentimes gets in the way of our other interests occurred in the fall of 1997 when Saddam Hussein was resisting U.N. weapons inspections. I happened to be in the Gulf region during that period of time. Administration officials in the area were trying to get Arab members of the coalition that executed operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1991 to allow U.S. military forces to be based on their territory. They wanted that capability in the event it was necessary to take military action against Iraq in order to get them to honor the UN resolutions. Our friends in the region cited a number of reasons for not complying with our request. They were concerned with the fragile nature of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, which was stalled. But they also had fundamental concerns about our policy toward Iran. We had been trying to force the governments in the region to adhere to an anti-Iranian policy, and our views raised questions in their mind about the wisdom of U.S. leadership. They cited it as an example of something they thought was unwise, and that they should not do.

So, what effect does this have on our standing in the region? I take note of the fact that all of the Arab countries we approached, with the single exception of Kuwait, rejected our request to base forces on their soil in the event military action was required against Iraq. As if that weren’t enough, most of them boycotted the economic conference that the United States supported in connection with the peace process that was hosted in Qatar during that period of time. Then, having rejected participation in that conference, they all went to Tehran and attended the Islamic summit hosted by the Iranians. The nation that's isolated in terms of our sanctions policy in that part of the globe is not Iran. It is the United States. And the fact that we have tried to pressure governments in the region to adopt a sanctions policy that they clearly are not interested in pursuing has raised doubts in the minds of many of our friends about the overall wisdom and judgement of U.S. policy in the area.

We oftentimes find ourselves now in a position of advocating secondary boycotts. I can remember when the United States was the preeminent opponent of secondary boycotts. We opposed them, for example, when the Arabs tried to impose secondary boycotts on companies that did business in Israel. We thought that was a terrible idea. Now they are part and parcel of the Helms-Burton Act and also of the Iran/Libya Sanctions Act. Sanctions provisions in both of those laws are extraordinarily clumsy policy tools, illustrated by the fact that the administration has recently been waiving the provisions of both acts as not being in the interests of the United States.