Sanctions Against Iran at a Time of Global Pandemic Are Criminal

Even before the coronavirus, the United States' sanctions against Iran were unconscionable. But now, with one person dying of coronavirus every ten minutes in Iran, the sanctions are killing untold numbers of people. They must end now.

The Azadi Tower in Tehran. blondinrikard / Flickr

In January, Donald Trump took to Twitter to address the “brave, long-suffering people of Iran: I’ve stood with you since the beginning of my Presidency, and my Administration will continue to stand with you.”

He went on: “The noble people of Iran — who love America — deserve a government that’s more interested in helping them achieve their dreams than killing them for demanding respect.”

Trump certainly has an interesting way of showing his solidarity — particularly in the era of coronavirus, when he’s been even more complicit in killing the Iranians he’s allegedly helping.

As of Tuesday, the country had roughly 25,000 confirmed cases and nearly 2,000 deaths. The Iranian health ministry reports that one person is dying of coronavirus every ten minutes. And yet the Trump administration has found the moment opportune to ramp up its economic assault on Iran, where years of US sanctions have already devastated the Iranian health care system.

As Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted last October, sanctions had “drastically constrained the ability of the country to finance humanitarian imports, including medicines, causing serious hardships for ordinary Iranians and threatening their right to health.” Among those especially affected were patients with leukemia, epilepsy, and eye injuries owing to “exposure to chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war” of 1980–88 (another period of mass suffering in which the United States was more than slightly culpable, including, as it happens, on the chemical weapons front).

But, hey, so what if the shortage of medicine and equipment prevents Iran from effectively fighting coronavirus? It’s not like global pandemics affect the whole world.

The United States insists that humanitarian assistance to Iran is not prohibited by sanctions. But as HRW found, supposed humanitarian exemptions “have failed to offset the strong reluctance of US and European companies and banks to risk incurring sanctions and legal action by exporting or financing exempted humanitarian goods.”

If that wasn’t enough evidence, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s admission that the United STates is engaged in straight-up collective punishment in Iran — in order to “lead the Iranian people to rise up and change the behavior of the regime” — would seem to indicate that humanitarianism is not at all the name of the game. War crimes, more like it.

A Reuters article headlined “US to Iran: Coronavirus won’t save you from sanctions” quotes US Special Representative for Iranian Affairs Brian Hook as “blam[ing] Iran’s leadership for its coronavirus woes, saying that Iran ‘spends billions on terrorism and foreign wars’ and that if it spent one tenth of this ‘on a better health care system, the Iranian people would have been much better off.’”

Never mind that this entire critique can be more aptly applied to United States itself, which, as the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights observed in 2017, “spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, [the] United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan combined,” while “Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy.”

Add to this the United States’ spectacularly incompetent and criminally negligent response to coronavirus, and it appears Hook is simply suffering from a severe case of projection.

As for astronomical US spending on “terrorism and foreign wars,” one need only consider the mass civilian slaughter in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and beyond — not to mention the elimination of an estimated half-million Iraqi children via US sanctions, or the 1953 CIA-orchestrated coup against elected Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh, which ushered in a reign of terror by America’s favorite shah.

To be sure, the shah was one Iranian whose health did actually matter to the US — and he received cancer treatment in New York in 1979, the year of the Iranian revolution that overthrew him.

And why was the Iranian monarch such a special case? For one thing, as historian Ervand Abrahamian recalls, arms dealers at the time “joked that the shah devoured their manuals in much the same way as other men read Playboy.”

Nowadays, too, the United States places paramount importance on profit — and not, you know, the continued existence of the world. Hence the wars on human health and the wars that, in destroying human lives, keep the defense industry healthy.

According to Reuters’ oh-so-diplomatic take on coronavirus in Iran, “Iranians appeared to have mixed feelings about whether Washington was making its outbreak worse.” Proof offered in support of this assessment consisted of the fact that one Twitter user by the handle of @fnikjoo had “suggested sanctions relief would just provide ‘Money to support more terrorists in the region and beyond.’”

My own visit to the Twitter account in question revealed that Mr Fardin Nikjoo was based in Sydney and had just retweeted the following tweet from American political cartoonist Eli Valley: “This Reuters story on our crime against humanity playing out in Iran right now ends with an ‘Iranian counterpoint’ from some guy tweeting from Australia to 238 followers.”

Unfortunately for humanity as it goes to war against coronavirus, the United States is still disproportionately preoccupied with terrorizing Iran. And while Trump may persist in his delusion that the “noble people of Iran … love America,” the reality is that American foreign policy is a disease in its own right.