Hamid Yazdan Panah is an attorney focused on asylum and immigration in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is also a human rights activist focused on the Middle East and Iran.
The Iran question has dominated policy discussions for nearly a decade. How to prevent the mullahs from obtaining nuclear weapons is no doubt a hot button issue. The general consensus remains that there is no viable military solution to this problem. What we are left with are sanctions and continual dialogue with an undemocratic and barbaric regime, with the hopes of getting them to “behave.” Yet even this is too harsh for some, who object to sanctions against Iran on humanitarian grounds. The question then becomes, what exactly is the humanitarian cost of doing business with Iran?
There are poignant examples which can be cited as a basis to oppose sanctions on humanitarian grounds. For example the a UN report noted that more than 500,000 Iraqi children died due to sanctions in the 1990’s. However, many who adamantly oppose sanctions appear to have a more complicated agenda in mind.
Under the guise of humanitarian work, lobby groups backing Tehran have stubbornly sought the removal of sanctions in order to guarantee the survival of the regime, and to profit off of business with Iran. Ironically, those who claim to support human rights and oppose western intervention find themselves advocating for the bloodthirsty regime in Tehran, as well as multinational corporations interested in keeping the flow of oil steady, even if it comes at the expense of the people of Iran.
And make no mistake, the Iranian people pay the price of living under this regime everyday. Nevermind the fact that the regime bears responsibility for the sanctions by the destructive policies it chooses to pursue, as well as by the mismanagement of the countries economic foundations. From a humanitarian standpoint is is nearly impossible to ignore that Iran leads the world in per capita execution rate, and has consistently been cited as one of the worst violators of human rights by the United Nations. Somehow our moral indignation should not apply to these facts.
Nor do they apply to Iran’s involvement in Syria, a conflict which has been prolonged by the Tehran’s support of Bashar al-Assad, and has cost the lives of nearly half a million Syrians. Not to mention the conflict has essentially given rise to ISIS and destabilized Iraq, and much of the region. These inconvenient facts remain absent in policy discussions on Iran, but they remain political realities for those who are suffering everyday as a direct result of Iran’s belligerent policies.
A more nuanced method of opposing sanctions is employed by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), an organization which has been criticized for its connections with Tehran and the oil industry. Despite claiming it represents Iranian Americans, the group undertakes extensive lobbying to push a particular agenda. Using sophisticated analysis and supposed expertise in the region, the group clearly specific agenda; namely to oppose sanctions on Iran. A simple inquiry into the any of a number of articles written by Trita Parsi or members of NIAC reveal that they all end with the same advice, lift sanctions and negotiate with Iran.
It is worth noting that groups like NIAC continuously cite the humanitarian toll of sanctions, yet rarely discuss Iran’s atrocious human rights record. These groups have specifically targeted Iranians and Westerners, under the guise of preventing war and supporting a humanitarian cause. Yet their policy goals are to prolong the reign of a ruthless regime.
Do sanctions hurt ordinary Iranians? Yes. They hurt my own family members who reside in Iran. They do make daily life difficult. But the reality is that they hurt the regime much worse. In January 2014, Reuters published an expose on the 95 billion dollar empire of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei. The report stated “ One of the chief beneficiaries of this week’s easing of Iranian sanctions is the country’s ruler – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.”
Khamanei’s empire has been built on the backs of the Iranian people, and has robbed them of their freedom, their wealth, and in many cases of their lives. This is the true cost of doing business with Iran.