Last Wednesday, US President Donald Trump signed new sanctions into law against Russia, Iran, and North Korea. The legislation was supported so overwhelmingly in Congress that President Trump's ability to veto the legislation was rendered completely ineffective.
Even anti-interventionist Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard voted in favor of the bill, once again proving that Republicans and Democrats always find common ground when it comes to beating the drums of war against sovereign nations who have taken very little unwarranted hostile action — if any — towards the United States.
But these are just sanctions, not acts of war, right? There's nothing wrong with economically bullying other countries into submission over non-compliance with the current global order, right?
Sanctions are always a prelude to war. Though few are aware, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was arguably in response to America's attempt to cripple Japan's booming economy through embargos and asset freezes, ending Japan's commercial relationship with the United States and provoking the desperation that led to their attack.
In August 1990, the US began a sanctions regime against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. In 1991, the United States invaded Iraq and completely decimated its armed forces, also directly targeting its civilian infrastructure. Following this devastation, the US extended and expanded these economic sanctions on Iraq as further punishment. The U.N. estimated these sanctions led to the deaths of 1.7 million Iraqi civilians, including between 500,000 and 600,000 children.
When Bill Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was questioned on these statistics, she intimated that the price was "worth it."
These sanctions only came to an end after the US invaded again in 2003 (and the complete international sanctions regime was only lifted in December 2010).
Libya also faced American-imposed sanctions beginning in the 1990s, as well, and we all know how that story ended.
In May of 2004, the US imposed economic sanctions on Syria, supposedly over Syria's support for terrorism and its "failure to stop militants entering Iraq" – a country the US destabilized in the first place. In reality, these sanctions were a response to Syria and Iran's growing relationship as the two countries had reportedly agreed to a mutual defense treaty that same year.
Syria has been the target of a regime change operation since as far back as 2006, and the US has been openly bombing its territory under both Barack Obama and Donald Trump; the US has already bombed the Syrian government multiple times over the past year. If it had not been for the Russian intervention, the US most likely would have ousted the Syrian government by force before Trump even took office.
Iran has been battling with sanctions for some time now, with the anti-Iranian sanctions regime serving as a smokescreen for regime change in the same manner that Libya, Syria, and Iraq were targeted previously.
In the case of Iran, the underlying motives are quite clear: the renewed set of sanctions is designed to undermine the 2015 nuclear agreement, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Even though the Trump administration is aware that Iran is in full compliance with the JCPOA, Trump has made it an official policy of his own to deliberately erode the deal.
Why would he do that?
As explained in the book Which Path to Persia? Options for a New American Strategy toward Iran, authored by an ex CIA analyst who promoted the 2003 invasion of Iraq:
For those who favor regime change or a military attack on Iran (either by the United States or Israel), there is a strong argument to be made for trying this option first. Inciting regime change in Iran would be greatly assisted by convincing the Iranian people that their government is so ideologically blinkered that it refuses to do what is best for the people and instead clings to a policy that could only bring ruin on the country. The ideal scenario in this case would be that the United States and the international community present a package of positive inducements so enticing that the Iranian citizenry would support the deal, only to have the regime reject it. In a similar vein, any military operation against Iran will likely be very unpopular around the world and require the proper international context – both to ensure the logistical support the operation would require and to minimize the blowback from it. The best way to minimize international opprobrium and maximize support (however grudging or covert) is to strike only when there is a widespread conviction that the Iranians were given but then rejected a superb offer – one so good that only a regime determined to acquire nuclear weapons and acquire them for the wrong reasons would turn it down. [emphasis added]