Boycotting other countries is a popular policy in the US, where politicians can score with fomenting hatred towards other countries. Remember the "freedom fries" or the recent anti-Russian fever when a Georgia's US-sponsored raid went wrong? However, the sanctions against Iran stand out among those boycotts because they have got some international support. Unjustified support.
An important factor in the Iran sanctions has been lobbying by AIPAC.
The sanctions started right after the 1979 revolution. And have since repeatedly been sharpened. By 1987 the import of Iranian goods into the United States had been banned. In 1995, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12957, banning U.S. investment in Iran's energy sector, followed a few weeks later by Executive Order 12959 of May 6, 2000, eliminating all trade and investment and virtually all interaction between the United States and Iran. The most recent move was in 2007. Under the pretext of harming Iran's regime a boycott of its financial sector was anounced.
We know from Serbia that the boycott brought the country financial ruin, while the environment of Milosevic enriched itself. Something similar is happening in Iran, where the mafia around the leaders is enriching itself while the private sector withers. The possesion of oil and the fact that most of the world has not follow the lead of the US means that the effects are not as strong as in Serbia. But they are still considerable. Much more than many people think:
- under US pressure many international banks have broken their connections with Iran
- High tech is out of reach for the Iranians. No European firm will work together with them as they might loose access to US technology and patents.
- Iranian academics are not allowed to publish in US academic journals. As US journals dominate in many fields this cuts them off from the scientific community.
The effect is that the economic power that Iran's rulers have because of the oil is even more increased because nearly all businesses are dependent on the rulers for permits and allocations. Many alternative routes to achieve economic goals have been cut off.
Those attacks against the Iranian population are defended with the argument that it might turn the population against the regime. In fact no international sanctions have worked this way. It didn't work in South Africa, Birma, Iraq or Serbia. The effect is usually the opposite: the sanctions give the regime an excuse for their failures and they position the opposition as traitors. And the whole country knows that they are in a double bind: if the regime worsens the sanctions worsen. But if the regime shows improvement it is claimed that it has now been shown that the sanctions work and the sanctions will worsen too.
Instead of relying on independent forces (that it destroys instead) the US promotes its own people as opposition. Their ideal is the way change was brought to Serbia, Georgia and the Ukraine in the US financed "color revolutions". Problem is that nowadays countries like Iran are well aware of what happened on those occasions and that they will make sure that it doesn't happen to them.
The main factor in the end of the Apartheid regime in South Africa was the international public opinion. In a world of affirmative action Apartheid simply was no longer salonfähig. As the human rights violations of the Iranian regime are not considered aceptable by many too it would be a much better policy to keep our channels with Iran open:
- remove every sanction that hinders the development of an independent business community in Iran. Independent businesses will diminish the grip of the regime on the country.
- keep trade contacts open. They are personal contacts that tell the Iranians how the rest of the world thinks.
- remove sanctions that promote massive smuggling. The smuggling enriches and strengthens the regime.