Vital Signs

Sanctions: War on the Cheap

The modern weapon of "sanctions" seems made-to-order for the foreign policy of Bill Clinton. Remarkably evasive and unprincipled even for a modern politician, Clinton is possessed of a horror of commitment in both his personal and his political life. The armamentarium of minute differentia in sanctions allows Clinton to posture at length as a man of peace or of toughness in foreign policy while seemingly keeping all of his options open. In particular, sanctions allow the President to assume moral stances while avoiding any unpleasant consequences.

Sanctions are measures to inflict economic pain on countries whose governments in some way displease the United States. They can range from seizure of the other country's assets in the United States to embargoes on financial dealings, investments, or trade. The embargoes can range up to all imports to, or exports from, the sanctioned country. The attractive point to the President is that they exert coercion upon another country without actually dropping American bombs or sending American troops into harm's way. War on the cheap; exertion of American force on relatively defenseless nations. What could be more attractive?

Bill Clinton, it is true, scarcely invented the sanction device. It has been used ever since Woodrow Wilson launched the perpetual global crusade to impose replicas of American institutions throughout the world. Franklin Roosevelt's sanctions...

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