Commentary Magazine


Do Sanctions Hurt Sick Iranians?

Several pundits and advocacy groups have bought the notion hook, line, and sinker that sanctions are hurting sick Iranians. The problem is that it is not true. Just ask the Iranians: According to Mohammad Reza Naderi, deputy head of Iran’s Customs Administration, 30 tons of medicine have passed through Iran’s main Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKIA) on a daily basis. Between March 21 and September 10 of this year, he said that almost 7,000 tons of medicine worth more than $500 million cleared Iranian customs at IKIA alone. Yearly, medical imports have increased by nine percent.

Saddam Hussein’s government once claimed that international sanctions had killed 500,000 Iraqi children. That figure entered the mainstream debate and became a mantra. The only problem was it was not true. Certainly, after Iraq’s liberation, it quickly became apparent that 500,000 Iraqi children had not died.

Sanctions are no silver bullet, but pressure and coercion are part of any comprehensive strategy. Not surprisingly, dictators do not like sanctions because they make their job more difficult. Dictators will try any number of strategies to mitigate sanctions’ impact, such as cultivating American academics and analysts. Perhaps it’s time to step back and ask why the press so readily and uncritically accepts the sob-stories put out by dictatorial regimes—especially when the import figures put out by Iranian customs show the truth to be far different than the regimes’ claims.