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The Truth Behind U.S. Sanctions Policy

Twisted Value Judgments

by JUSTIN DOOLITTLE

Senator Lindsey Graham, the most radical authoritarian in the radically authoritarian U.S. Senate, has introduced a legislative measure that would impose trade sanctions on any country that offers asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden. The amendment was approved unanimously by the Senate Appropriations Committee and will no doubt become law (at least in some form).

As the Washington Post report points out, Graham asserts, on no evidence, that Snowden’s revelations have had “incredibly disturbing” implications for national security. This in itself is not particularly interesting. Graham is a proven liar and a dedicated authoritarian whose mission in life is to expand the Security State in order to stop the mythical Terrorists who continue to haunt his dreams at night nearly a dozen years after 9/11. There is virtually no punitive action against Snowden, including assassination, that Graham would conceivably oppose. And, of course, any government that does not hand this monster back to the U.S. government so he can be locked in a cage for several decades is clearly siding with Terrorists, or something, and must be punished accordingly.

It is instructive, though, to consider this in the larger context of U.S. sanctions over the course of recent history. It’s always refreshing when the U.S. government explicitly reveals its priorities – what it considers to be manifestly harmful to American interests and deserving of sanctions (not “crippling sanctions,” mind you: those are reserved for the unique evil of the Persian Menace) and what it does not. Most Democrats and Republicans throughout the U.S. government will certainly support some kind of sanctions regime for whatever luckless country ends up committing the unspeakable crime of offering Edward Snowden asylum. That’s the crime, here, remember: providing a safe place to live for a young man whose actions have not, to anyone’s knowledge, caused any appreciable harm to anyone, and who inspired millions of people around the world with courage in standing up to the world’s most powerful government.

Let’s rewind back to May 31, 2010. On that day, barely remembered now, Israeli naval commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara, better known as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, a Turkish ship carrying aid to the impoverished souls of the Gaza Strip. Savage violence ensued, with the commandos murdering nine activists, including one dual U.S.-Turkish citizen by the name of Furkan Dogan. Dogan, who was unarmed, was shot five times. Ali Yunusoalu, a friend of Dogan’s who was on the ship at the time, said the soldiers just “started shooting and bombing” and that Dogan “ran everywhere” before finally getting shot, including once in the forehead at point-blank range.

No high-ranking U.S. officials even cared enough to offer a pretense of outrage over a foreign state executing an American citizen. The U.S. response was even more muted than it was the previous time Israel murdered an American citizen, in 2003, when the IDF bulldozed an activist by the name of Rachel Corrie to death for no discernible reason. After that, at least there were a few U.S. officials who went through the motions, with meek calls for investigations and phony expressions of concern. After the flotilla incident, though, no one even bothered. Not only was there no outrage, not only was aid to Israel not even threatened, not only were sanctions not imposed, but the U.S. government exhibited far greater concern over the nonexistent Terrorist ties of the activists on board the ship than over the senseless murder of a U.S. citizen. The manic and obsessive quest to root out Terrorism, real and imagined, across every inch of the Earth would not be derailed by the mere point-blank execution of Furkan Dogan.

Comparing the U.S.’s reaction to these two situations is quite revealing. One possible objection to this analogy is that sheltering Snowden represents an (ostensibly) ongoing offense on which some government might be forced to relent under the pressure of sanctions, as opposed to the flotilla murder, an isolated incident, over which sanctions could serve no meaningful purpose other than the exertion of retributive punishment. This ignores the fact that Israel’s attack on the flotilla, and subsequent murders, was not just some random incident that took place in a vacuum. It happened in the context of Israel’s illegal and morally abominable blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is now in its sixth year and continues to cause massive suffering, having created what Noam Chomsky calls “the world’s largest prison.” And this blockade, of course, is part of an even broader context, namely, Israel’s brutal, multi-faceted criminal mistreatment of Palestinians over the past half-century. No one can reasonably deny that Israel’s war against the Palestinian people has served to increase terrorism and violence around the world and stir hatred and resentment against Israel’s #1 ally and benefactor, namely, the United States. The flotilla attack was just one of a seemingly endless line of atrocities committed by Israel that have harmed U.S. security and favorability around the world.

Furthermore, Israel, under Netanyahu, has defied and ignored the U.S. at will. All the conditions would seem to be in place for sanctions against Israel. But don’t suggest this in polite society. You will be met with shock and confusion and you might be taken in for an immediate psychological evaluation. That offering asylum to Edward Snowden is a more egregious offense against the United States than actually murdering an American citizen is just a self-evident truism in this Post-9/11 World.

Justin Doolittle writes a political blog called Crimethink. He has an M.A. in public policy from Stony Brook University and a B.A. in political science from Coastal Carolina University.