During last week's vice presidential debate, the candidates clashed over whose team would be better able to impose "crippling" sanctions on Iran. The problem with sanctions is an old one.
President Jefferson tried to impose a trade embargo on Britain in 1807 to stop the Royal Navy from seizing our sailors on the high seas. This Embargo was an attempt to use peaceful coercion to bring about a change in policy by the British. It failed. It was Jefferson's greatest failure as president.
We have a Bicentennial Walking Tour of the War of 1812 at the U.S. Naval Academy. I'd be happy to take you on that tour. The War of 1812 was the direct result of the failure of Jefferson's sanctions to make Britain changer her behavior.
At the outset of the Civil War, Confederate President Jefferson Davis imposed a cotton embargo. Millions of bales of cotton were left to rot on Southern wharves because Davis and his Cabinet were convinced they could force Britain to break the Union blockade of Southern ports.
The British, so this reasoning went, would become so desperate for cotton for their textile mills that they would have use force against the U.S. Navy and enter the war as a belligerent on the side of the Confederacy. Britain was unwilling to risk war with the Yankees and, besides, they found other sources of cheaper cotton--in Egypt, in India. Jeff Davis's cotton embargo failed--spectacularly.
Prior to World War II, the U.S. imposed an oil embargo on Japan. The theory was that the Japanese military rulers, lacking any domestic sources of petroleum, would cease their aggression against China and be forced by economic sanctions to come to the negotiating table.
You've heard of Pearl Harbor. That was the Japanese Imperialists' answer to the U.S. economic sanctions.
The rulers of these countries, especially if they are dictatorships, always have enough stuff. The gaudy and glittering gangster palaces of the late unlamented Saddam Hussein and Muammar Khaddafi attest to the fact that despots always take care of their own creature comforts. These two got all the Western stuff--even pornography and Viagra--that they wanted.
And yet, we are assured that sanctions will work with the Iranian mullahs. Why do we think this?
These are men who willingly sent thousands of ten-year old boys through Iraqi minefields during the 10-year war between the mullahs and Saddam Hussein.
These despots get all the stuff they want. And they don't care if their people suffer from crippling sanctions.
Moderator Martha Raddatz last week quoted former Defense Sec. Robert Gates as saying we lack the military means to destroy Iran's nuclear weapons program. If that is so, then what possible justification does the Defense Department have for taxing us to build B-1 Stealth bombers that, we are breathlessly told, "can strike any target on earth"? Why have submarine-launched Cruise missiles? What are our JDAMs for? These Joint Direct Attack Munitions are "smart bombs" supposedly capable of guiding bunker buster bombs deep into underground silos.
Ultimately, why is the United States a nuclear super power? The possession by Iran of nuclear weapons is a mortal threat to our homeland. Not just to Israel, or our supposed "allies" in the Gulf region, Iran's nuclear weapons threaten us.
The Iranian rulers have openly said they foresee a world without the United States, without the "Great Satan." They have been making war on us for more than thirty years. Seizing our embassy is an act of war. Holding 52 Americans hostage for 444 days is an act of war. Sending a suicide bomber into the barracks in Beirut to murder 241 Marines and Navy Corpsmen is an act of war. Plotting to bomb a restaurant in Georgetown, in the heart of our nation's capital is an act of war.
The mullahs will never succumb to sanctions. They don't care about "stuff." They only understand force!
Editor's Note: This column was co-authored by Bob Morrison.