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Jewish World Review April 23, 2001 / 30 Nissan 5761

Philip Terzian

Terzian
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Consumer Reports


Who pays for sanctions?


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THERE was a leak in the tightly-held Bush administration last week, and the results were revealing.

Here is the background. Vice President Richard Cheney heads a White House energy task force, and it has been reported that a recent draft report calls for the United States to review economic restrictions against Iran, Iraq and Libya. Why? Because, according to the report, UN sanctions against Iraq and American sanctions against Libya and Iran "affect some of the most important existing and prospective petroleum producing countries in the world." Translation: Our supply of oil is diminished by continuing sanctions against these oil-producing nations.

On the face of it, the report reflects common sense. The United States, and the rest of the oil-importing world, have an interest in exploiting sources of petroleum. We are not exactly down to our last few barrels, but as motorists have observed, the price of gasoline at the pump has lately been rising. Consumers are angry. One obvious solution is to purchase petroleum where the price is cheap and supply is plentiful.

Easier said than done. That would mean doing business with the ayatollahs in Tehran, Colonel Khadafy and Saddam Hussein. We are not only constrained from doing so by legislation, but by politics as well. And the number of politicians willing to contemplate coming to economic terms with these gentlemen is severely limited. So President Bush was thrown into swift defensive mode. He denied to reporters that sanctions are about to be lifted, or that any one of these pariah states is currently eligible to reapply to the family of man.

Still, the President's remarks are worth examining. "In our energy review," he said, "we are looking at all opportunities to create more energy supply" - makes economic sense -- "and to take the pressure off price," which makes political sense. "At the same time," Mr. Bush continued, "I think it's important for the country to review all sanctions policies to make sure they are effective. But I have no intention as of this moment to take sanctions off countries like Iran and Libya" (emphasis mine).

Join that one phrase about reviewing the effectiveness of sanctions policies to the throwaway line -- "as of this moment" -- and you have the ingredients for an interesting political waltz around town. What the President was saying, of course, is that we are, in fact, reconsidering economic sanctions, but for various delicate reasons, we are not doing it today.

There are three reasons. The first is that the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) expires in August, and Congress must decide whether to renew it for another five years. The second reason is that the Iranian presidential election is scheduled for June, and Washington is rooting for the "moderate" candidate. If it is understood that Congress will renew ILSA, or that the Bush administration is inexorably opposed to lifting economic sanctions against Iran, the hand of the hard-liners in Tehran would be strengthened, and nobody wants that.

Well, almost nobody. The third reason is that Sen. Edward Kennedy, among others, has chosen to bind American policy toward Libya to the case of Pan Am Flight 103, which was bombed by Libyan agents over Scotland in 1989.

Kennedy claims that any relaxation of restrictions against Libya "would have a far-reaching, negative impact on America's 12-year pursuit of justice .... Although there is strong interest in the U.S. oil industry in investing in Libya, profits cannot take priority over justice."

Accordingly, President Bush took note. While a Scottish court, sitting in The Hague last January, convicted a Libyan intelligence agent of complicity in the bombing, that isn't enough. "We've made it clear to the Libyans," said Mr. Bush, "that the sanctions will remain until such time as they not only compensate for the bombing of the aircraft, but also admit their guilt and express remorse." Prior to this, we had demanded that Libya turn over the suspected agents for trial; now expressions of guilt and remorse have been added to the bill.

The mystery in this, of course, is that while demands on Libya increase, our trade with the People's Republic of China daily multiplies. For some reason, the argument that doing business with China will make life better for the Chinese, and put pressure on its repressive government, is not applied to such countries as Iran, Iraq, Libya or Cuba. Meanwhile, the people who are trapped in those places must suffer so that Teddy Kennedy can bellow about profits and justice. Sure, the oil industry would like to purchase new petroleum; must Americans pay for failed policies at the gas pump?

Economic sanctions not only penalize American consumers, they make life worse for innocent people, and guarantee that tyrants remain in power.



JWR contributor Philip Terzian is associate editor of The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.

Up

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© 2001, The Providence Journal