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Sanctions and Rogues By: William R. Hawkins
The Washington Times | Wednesday, November 14, 2007


On Oct. 31, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns met with French officials to press America's European allies to impose new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. A week earlier, the United States placed sanctions against Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, one that controls as much as a third of the Iranian economy. The main purpose of sanctions is not just to apply diplomatic pressure on a rogue regime, but to dry up the flow of resources the regime can use to support its dangerous activities. There is, however, another beneficial effect of sanctions; they prevent the formation of business ties between hostile foreign governments and domestic business interests who then feel compelled to lobby for the interests of the overseas power to protect their investments.

Major corporations may still be headquartered in the United States, but they have become transnational in outlook. They care nothing for international geopolitics and only hope concerns over national security do not get in their way. The National Foreign Trade Council, the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Chamber of Commerce had lobbied all summer against imposing sanctions on Iran. These groups are not bothered by Iran's nuclear ambitions, its support for terrorism, or its role in attacking Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. They think only of the money they can make in Tehran.

Fortunately, this lobbying for private profit over national security is not working. Even before the Bush administration took action against the Revolutionary Guards, Congress was moving legislation forward towards the same end. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made his combative speech at the United Nations Sept. 25, the U.S. House marked the occasion by passing a ban on all imports from Iran and an expansion of curbs on exports. The bill also blocks U.S. civil nuclear cooperation with countries that assist Iran's nuclear program. Rep. Tom Lantos, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the bill was needed because Iran's denials of a nuclear weapons program could not be believed. The bipartisan vote was 397-16.

On Oct. 24, President George W. Bush, in a powerful speech outlining what needs to be done to prepare Cuba for post-Castro liberation,reiterated that the trade embargo on the Communist regime must stand as long as the Castro brothers maintain their monopoly over the political and economic life of the island. "Trade with Cuba under the current regime would merely enrich the elites in power and strengthen their grip." said the president. But again, transnational business interests are working against government policy. The Chamber of Commerce has an ongoing campaign to lift sanctions on Havana, arguing that sanctions "isolate the United States from its allies while denying U.S. companies access to markets in which third-country firms can do business easily." This is the old "if Johnny jumps off the roof, we should too" argument, except applied to jumping into bed with a bloody dictatorship.

In this same vein is the long campaign waged by the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) opposing action against Burma. On Oct. 23, the NFTC called on Congress not to respond to the latest wave of violent repression by the military tyrants against pro-democracy elements with more sanctions.

Then there is continued corporate support for an appeasement policy towards China, despite its clear ambitions to become a peer competitor of the United States in every strategic arena. The same lobbyists who have opposed sanctions on Iran have opposed new export controls devised by the Commerce Department on "dual use" technology that Beijing could use for its military expansion. On Oct. 11, a major new initiative was launched by the Justice Department and other federal agencies to fight illegal trafficking in weapons and sensitive technologies, with China and Iran identified as the main concerns.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has been having a hard time getting American companies to invest and trade with Iraq. The Commerce Department has held a number of conferences and has taken hundreds of business executives to Baghdad. Last year, the Pentagon set up a Task Force to Support Business and Stability Operations in Iraq. In August, The Washington Post interviewed Paul A. Brinkley, the deputy undersecretary of defense in charge of this initiative. He acknowledged that promising opportunities with U.S. companies have slipped away as the war's popularity fell. "I thought we would be further along at this point.... America's economic might has still not been brought to bear in Iraq," said Mr. Brinkley.

The United States needs strong policies to pull rogue corporations back into the national fold to stop the hemorrhaging of industrial capacity, technology and capital to overseas rivals; and to mobilize financial strength behind national objectives. The business community can no longer be trusted to police itself, or to display any allegiance to American security if they can make a buck somewhere else.


William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.


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