No Medicine

11.05.12

'Unexpected' Effects of Iran Sanctions?

Of the few foreign correspondents permanently based in Iran, Thomas Erdbrink is probably the best. His latest, in the New York Times on Satuday morning, is a must-read. It follows the travails of Ali, who's searching for an American-made cancer drug for his mother. Only Ali can't find the medicine because of American-made sanctions. The great irony here is the absence of Ali's last name: Ali "does not want his family name mentioned because he said he had been punished for political activities in college." Got that? "My mom, us, other patients, we are all caught in the middle of this political battle,” he told Erdbrink. “We don’t have any influence on nuclear policies. We are victims.”

Most curious to me in this sad Times story was its headline. "Iran Sanctions Take Unexpected Toll on Medical Imports," it read (reporters often don't write their own headlines; I don't know if Erdbrink wrote this one). Drugs are meant to be exempted from the regulations prohibiting doing business through Iran's Central Bank, and the Times notes that the U.S. recently lifted some of the bureaucratic obstacles to getting those exemptions. "But the effects of such a move are unclear, since the exporters still face troubles getting paid," Erdbrink reports. "Virtually no American or European bank wants to be involved in financial transactions with Iran, no matter what products are involved."

This was not "unexpected"; it's just the way those who designed these sanctions want it. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Il.), who introduced the Central Bank sanctions, said as much in an interview as the measure moved through Congress. Asked, in the wake of the Iranian plot to attack an ambassador in Washington, if he was worried that ordinary Iranians—like Ali—would be hurt by the sanctions, Kirk responded: "It’s okay to take the food out of the mouths of the citizens from a government that’s plotting an attack directly on American soil." As I wrote at the time, it's stunning to denounce Iran for it's democratic failings and then show this sort of indifference to the well-being of people on the basis of the policies of a government that's wholly unaccountable to them.

How great a leap is it from indifference about literally starving Iranians to denying them cancer medicine? Not great at all.